Common Core Stress? Advocate, don’t argue

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I admit it:  I was in hysterics when I read the answer that dad provided for the math question on the second grade test.  The question was not a good one – I think we can agree on that.  The fallout, of course, is yet another argument about the role the Common Core Standards play in these scenarios.

The Common Core Standards are just that – a set of standards.  There is not a “Common Core Curriculum”.  However, school districts across the country are in a big transition phase as they seek out the best curriculum to help our children thrive and meet the standards.  The math that my daughter comes home with in her backpack each week is not necessarily the same as the math homework of a first grade student in New York.  Long story short:  The district calls the shots on the curriculum.

In some districts, kids are thriving.  Katie Sluiter works in a school district seeing great results.  But others are struggling.  That’s not to say that one district is better than another, but implementation has not been smooth  in every district.

So now we have one group of people yelling out, “Don’t blame the Common Core!” and a second group of people screaming, “Common Core math (or fill in the blank) is insane!”  And somewhere in between is a sea of confused and slightly stressed out parents trying to make sense of the changes.

My personal views on the matter are immaterial.  The fact is that parents do seem to be under stress as the changes occur, as do children when the intensity of the work becomes too much to bear.  It’s natural to want something (or someone) to blame, but the truth is that finding a scapegoat won’t actually help the second grade boy with the needlessly complicated math problem.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating:  Stress is contagious.  Change is HARD and can potentially trigger stress, but we need to cope with our own stress so that it doesn’t trickle down to our children.  Our kids watch us.  They take their cues from us.  If, each time we sort through the homework, we become inflamed over math problems or reading logs that appear time consuming and headache inducing, we send a very negative message to our kids.  You might think you’re empathizing, but what you’re saying is this:  This is too hard for you.  You’re not capable.  This will stress you out.  This will give you a headache.  This is wrong.

Is that how you want your kids to approach learning?  Do you want them to feel defeated before they’ve even had a chance to try?  Of course not.  You just don’t want added stress, and that is understandable.  Surely you know me well enough to know that I think homework grounded in busywork holds little to no value, but my daughter doesn’t know that I feel that way.  She knows that I support her learning, and advocate for her when stress creeps in.

So what can parents do?  How can parents help their children through these transitions without piling on additional stress?  Two words:  Support and advocate.

Advocate:

I am the first to admit that I scratch my head at some of the math problems that come home and the reading log made me want to run for the hills.  But you know what?  My daughter rocks those math problems!  She feels confident and capable and she’s learning to look at a problem from more than one angle.  That will help her later on in life.  And while the reading log is intense and the boxes are too small for first grade handwriting, the questions on the log are good.  It’s full of thinking questions.  And I want my daughter to think.

When she broke down into tears at the sight of one more thing to fill out, I emailed the teacher.  Within an hour, the new plan was for me to ask her the questions and fill in the log on her behalf.  Advocacy works.  When writing spelling words over and over and over again triggered stress in my otherwise free spirited child, I asked the teacher if she could type the words instead.  Done.  Advocacy works.

The bottom line is that young children are generally pleasers by nature and won’t advocate for their needs for fear of disappointing a teacher or parent.  Also?  It’s just a lot to ask of an elementary school child.  If stress related to your child’s learning is overwhelming (stomachaches, headaches, excessive tears, behavioral changes, etc.), it’s up to you to communicate with the teacher and work out a new plan.  All kids are different.  They have different strengths and weaknesses, and cope with stress in different ways.  Advocate for your child to find the best learning style and the stress will decrease.

Support:

Homework isn’t always fun.  Sometimes it is – my daughter just completed a long-term project in four days because it was an animal report and she just couldn’t wait to learn about the colossal squid.  But often it’s more of the same…because the point of homework is to support the learning (or so they say).  It can be frustrating for parents when kids dig in their heels and fight homework.  Believe me, I get it.  Instead of fighting back, we have to support them.

Empathize with your child.  Talk about your own homework as a kid.  Find ways to make it fun.  Plan obstacle course breaks every 10 minutes.  Throw in a dance party.  Take the assignment and make it into a game show.  And before you tell me that you don’t need extra work on your plate just to get the homework done, arguing is extra work.  And it leaves everybody feeling miserable.

Be there for your child.  Arguing with your child or imposing consequences for unfinished work only increases the negativity.  Just be supportive.

Get involved:

I recently attended a meeting at my daughter’s school.  It was an evening meeting scheduled to help parents understand changes to the curriculum as the school implements the Common Core Standards.  In a fairly good sized elementary school, only a handful of parents showed up.  Yes, it can be difficult to arrange childcare or tweak schedules to get to meetings at school, but it’s important to get involved.

Sitting back and listening to the chatter will not increase your understanding of the changes happening in your child’s school.  You have to get involved.  Volunteer when you can.  Schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher to express your concerns and problem-solve together.  Make the choice to be informed.

Cope with stress:

Teach your child to cope with stress.  Relaxation breathing and guided imagery are incredible tools for young children.  Talk about how you manage your own stress.  Try family yoga or make family exercise a priority to help relieve pent up stress (a hike is fun, healthy, and has the added benefit of fresh air/nature – very relaxing).

Childhood stress is serious.  It affects mental health, physical health, learning, and social/emotional well-being.  Be mindful of your own stress level so that you don’t project it to your child, and keep an eye on your child’s stress level so that you know when to intervene.

We can sit back and complain about the changes to education, or we can think locally and do something about it.  We have to put our kids first as the changes roll out, and the best way to do that is to be involved in your child’s education and support your child along the way.

 

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About Katie

Katie Hurley is a Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychotherapist and Parenting Expert in Los Angeles, CA. She works in private practice in the South Bay area of Los Angeles, writes for PBS Parents, Washington Post Parents, and the Huffington Post. She is the author of "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World" (Tarcher/Penguin, 2015) and the forthcoming "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" (Penguin Random House, 2018)