Parental Sidelines

Found on
Found on

Recently I had an eye-roll moment so extreme, I was unsure if my pupils were going to make their descent back down. You see, I have a 3 year old and her preschool class celebrated Valentine’s Day, as most do. To prepare parents for the class party a flier was sent home explaining parents could assist their child in signing their name to cards to pass out during the party.

Given my lack of experience, I can’t speak for the majority of 3 year olds, but my toddler is in trace mode with letters. I felt to best help her with her cards I would lightly write her name in pencil on each card, which she would then trace over with marker. Being that 3 year olds have short attention spans, completing 25 cards took roughly four, 30-minute sessions. No, this is not the annoying part.

After the party, she came home with a bag she decorated full of valentines. As she animatedly showed me her cards, I noticed only a few had actually been done by a toddler. Of the 20-something cards in her bag, only 4 were actually signed by a toddler. How would I know this? Well, it’s simple, toddler handwriting looks like chicken scratch, tots with more advance skills write letters you recognize, but the lines are seldom straight. Some cards were cute homemade cards with a saying or stamp – homemade with care by Jill. Wording I found rather peculiar considering the stacked hearts were perfectly centered, a task Michelangelo himself could not have completed as a toddler, I doubt Jill was even allowed to assist in creating the card – let alone was it actually made by her.

Which leads me to my eye roll moment. This is a class of 3 year olds and the majority of parents stepped in to do the work for them. Now I get that the parents writing the names and making the cards themselves took them a quarter of the time. However, efficiency was not the point of the activity. Furthermore, if your spending money to send your child to get an early foundation on learning, shouldn’t they be doing the work?

As a parent, I am well aware of how easy is it to stick my beak in where it does not belong. It comes with the territory of wanting what is best for them. Unfortunately, it can also detract from their learning experience. In the words of Benjamin Franklin,”Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.” For this reason, I have created an analogy to avoid sliding down this slippery slope. Regardless of the age or grade of your child, think of their assignments/activities/etc., as though they are a football game. Following these 5 steps will help you stay in the role meant for you:

1)    You Are Not the Player.

Since the assignment/project/activity/what-have-you, was not assigned to you. It is not yours to complete.

2)    Sideline Directing

Consider yourself the coach and athletic trainer rolled into one. From the sideline you can offer the player strategic advice, motivation, and inspirational words of wisdom. Additionally, you make sure they are in prime playing condition for optimal focus.

3)    Stay Off the Field

Think about it, when was the last time you watched a football game and saw the coach get on the field. Correction, when was the last time you saw a coach get on the field without one of the following results; issued sideline warning, team issued 5 yard penalty, or ejected from the game. The reason being they are not the players, thus it is not their game to play. With the exception of the placeholder rule (coming up), you do not belong on the field.

4)    Placeholder

From time-to-time assignments will be given that require more support. In these scenarios, it will be necessary for you to step on the field. However, remember you are only the placeholder (the guy who holds the ball for the kicker). You are not stepping onto the field as the kicker to complete a field goal. Your only job is to hold the ball, to best assist the kicker in achieving their goal.

Honest Abe - Bloated Taft - The Ghost from Christmas Past.... who can tell?
Honest Abe – Bloated Taft – The Ghost from Christmas Past…. who can tell?

5)    Perfect Does Not Mean Perfection

Finally, let go of perfection. When it comes to your projects, feel free to make them as perfect as you envisioned. Do not assign your self-standards to their work, especially the younger they are. Your writing and drawing did not start out perfect and neither will your tots. Beginning writing and drawing looks like fuck all. This does not mean you correct it, it means you smile and tell them it is the coolest thing you have ever seen. As you do this, their confidence soars until they do draw things that are recognizable. I currently have a picture of Abraham Lincoln hanging on my kitchen cabinet, that given the beady eyes and round face reminds me more of a bloated William Taft, but my tot doesn’t need to know that. Frankly, the fact that she understands the concept of drawing shapes is pretty incredible and will be given a showy display.

Now if this is something you have been doing. Do not let guilt or pride get in the way of stepping to the sideline. Hold your head high. We all make parenting fumbles, it’s how we learn from those that establishes who we are as parents. I’m certainly guilty of stepping onto the field, and assume eyes have rolled in my direction too. This analogy was as much for me, as it was for others. A strategy that can be easily applied in the future homework and life situations our children face.

So the next time you feel yourself creeping onto the field, give yourself the sideline warning. If that doesn’t work, it’s time to eject yourself from the game until you are confident in the sideline support you offer. The most important thing to remember, in order for your child(ren) to develop to the best of their ability, the work needs to come from them. The confidence gained will help them to hold their own, a skill that will be immeasurable as they grow. Often, as parents, this can make us feel as though we are not needed. Which could not be further from the truth. Developing their confidence and skills on their own, would not be possible without our parental wisdom and support guiding them from the sidelines or bandaging them up after big falls.

* Thought I should note, my tot did not pass out her Valentine cards. After all the time she spent, she said she ‘didn’t feel like it’. To be fair, when we were in the store picking them out, she specifically said she did not want to give her friends cards. Figuring she was just tired and bluffing we picked some out anyway. Turns out, her word is her bond. I may need a refresher course on how to call a bluff, but that’s another analogy for another day.

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