How to succeed at school (we're talking to you, parents)

"Listen mum, it's time for you to let me go."
"Listen mum, it's time for you to let me go."  Photo: Shutterstock

Writing about what I had hoped my daughter had learned after 13 years of school last week prompted me to start thinking about what I had learned. What, after so many years, had I (and I consider myself an engaged parent) taken on board?

So many of you are posting photographs of firsts: first day at preschool, of big school, of high school, of new schools. There’s not a manual for new-school parents. There’s not an induction day, or any kind of transition period.

So here are some lessons I have learned.

No one ever died from eating a simple lunch at school.
No one ever died from eating a simple lunch at school. Photo: Supplied

Don’t go too hard too early

There’s no one quite as enthusiastic as a first-time kindergarten parent. Or maybe that was just me. You need help with readers? Count me in. You need help with sport lessons? Let me find my runners. Canteen? I’ll even bake some allergy-free muffins to sell. Fete Day? I’ve blocked out the whole day.

I’m a doer. I’ll admit that. A hopeless volunteer who’s been putting her hand up for way too long. But you have to remember you’re in this school business for the long haul. Sure, schools need you less and less as the years go by, but there are always opportunities to help. You don’t want to burn out too early.

Pick one thing a year and volunteer for that. Find your niche. I think it pays to volunteer at your children’s school because it gives you an insight into what’s going on in the classroom, or the playground, first-hand. See that pushy kid in the canteen line? Keep an eye on him in class.

Don’t worry too much about lunchboxes

Here’s the thing. If you feed your kid Vegemite and cheese sandwiches 2600 times (if you’re going on four 10-week, five-day terms, times 13 years) no one is going to die. Chuck in a banana, a water bottle, and they’ll be hungry enough to eat the nutritious meal you’ll be serving them for dinner.

And bake. It’s always nice to get a homemade treat. A little bit of mum’s love to be ingested every day. I’ve upset the allergy people many times over the years. Be careful. But don’t go nuts. I still remember bananas being banned one year; we even had to remove banana Paddlepops from the school canteen.

This girl was not in my child’s class; they weren’t friends. I continued to send in the occasional slice of (homemade) banana bread. No one died.


Don’t try to be friends with all the parents

If you’re lucky you’ll make some lifelong friends. Most of them won’t be, though. You’ll meet plenty of people where the only thing you’ll have in common is that your kids are at the same school. But you’ll have to put up with them on the sidelines, at assemblies, at various school functions. You might even have 13 years with these people. Tread carefully.

You’ll meet some memorable people over the years. The woman who admits she doesn’t own a book. The one who looks at your energetic toddler and says she has no idea how you handle him. The father who makes inappropriate comments about some story you’ve written about swimming naked at Kambah Pool. I told him to f*** off. And so too the bloke who tried to mansplain how to barbecue a sausage on a rugby afternoon.

Maybe I’m the parent that they’ve met. Oh well.

Don't waste too much time on Book Week costumes.
Don't waste too much time on Book Week costumes. Photo: Supplied

Let the kids fight their own battles

And while the parents are fighting theirs, remember the kids have it coming from all fronts. You’ll know when you need to step in. But step back for a while. Let the kids sort it all out. Don’t force them to be friends with anyone, don’t fight their battles, don’t help them with homework (too much), but have your kids’ back.

There’s a line. And don’t be afraid to have the teacher’s back too. Too many times we forget the important role they play. Support their efforts and they’ll support your kid in return.

Let the kids set their pace, but be there for them

I reached a point, somewhere in early high school I think, where I stopped caring. Well, not caring as much as hovering. For years I knew the due date of every assignment, made sure they were on track, provoked conversations that sparked interest - sometimes, I’ll admit, “helping” when things were falling behind.

After a decade or so in the classroom I remembered I wasn’t actually in the classroom. It didn’t hurt me one bit if someone failed to hand in an assignment. The kids need to learn they are responsible for their own actions and the consequences that may befall them.

I knew one set of parents who, from the outset, had no idea what their kids were up to at school. They didn’t care. We’re not in school, they said. It horrified me. But I kind of get it now.

Don’t spend too much time on Easter bonnets or Book Week costumes

Will anyone remember if you spent three days making a Bumblebee costume that actually transformed out of organic cardboard and edible non-allergenic paint for Book Week? No. They will not. That’s all you need to know.