Parenting Elementary Age Kids
For this blog about parenting elementary kids (EK) I’ve asked my friend Janel to help. She is the Children’s Minister for our church and has on staff for twelve years. They have two sons, ages 12 and 9.
Me: What is the biggest challenge facing parents of elementary kids?
Janel: In the transition from preschool age to elementary age, parents must change their strategy. When kids are preschoolers, parents control the environment, what their child sees and hears. Once they start school, that control is diminished. Their child is then exposed to other voices, to other points of view, and to peer pressure relating to differing values. Their biggest threat is the cumulative effect of increased world-exposure. Their biggest challenge is what to do about it.
Me: What about their spiritual training?
Janel: Most new parents recognize the importance of early spiritual training. Studies show that parents engage well with their preschool kids because they are at home; time is readily available. But once they get busy with school and activities, the amount of time that the kids are out of the home is significant. At this age, the trend for parents is to get distracted. The parents get busier, the kids get busier, the schedules fill up, and the race is on. There just isn’t as much time or energy for relational growth and deeper spiritual development.
Me: So how do parents manage this increased pace?
Janel: Frequently, we see that the parents start outsourcing, as much as possible. Their kids have sports coaches, martial arts teachers, dance and gymnastics instructors, and so the spiritual training gets outsourced too. Parents look to church programs and events, and the spiritual development becomes the function of another “coach.” It’s being referred to as, “The Tree” mentality. They view themselves as the trunk, and the branches as everything going on in the child’s life. There’s a school branch, friend branch, activity branch, sports and arts branches, and a bible class and church branch. Successful parenting gets defined as supporting all the branches. Keeping all the boxes checked.
Me: How does this approach affect families?
Janel: Too often, the relationship between parent and child during the elementary years weakens, or at least it doesn’t grow deeper. Bible classes and church events are great, and they do a lot to support the parents. But those things can’t be a substitute for a close relationship. Our kids are being bombarded by the world. They need both the influence of the church and the relationship with their parents to combat it.
Me: What needs to happen?
Janel: Parents need to realize that their parent/child relationships are more important, more significant, than just managing all the branches. Parents need to see their child’s spiritual development as the tree’s roots and trunk instead of just a single branch among many.
Me: What is the most important part of your parenting?
Janel: To have a deep connection, to keep the relationships strong. I want my boys to be able to talk with me about anything, about everything.
Parents, you can make no better investment than to invest in a lasting connection with your elementary aged child. Don’t get distracted. Don’t back away from them, wade in deeper.
A thought to consider: The relationship you have during their elementary years is foundational for the relationship you will have during their high school years.
Remember: You are the best thing that ever happened to your children.
Tomorrow: parenting teen agers.