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Create reliable network of partners in parenting

By Katie Wetherbee

“The key to this business is personal relationships,” crowed a sage mentor in a popular feature film. What served as a catchy line in this movie about sports provides much wisdom for the business of parenting. Parents ultimately have the responsibility for shaping children’s values, beliefs and habits. However, children are also highly influenced by other adults and peers. Identifying and nurturing key relationships gives parents allies and information in every stage of a child’s development.

Doctors

A pediatrician has the potential to be a long-term presence in a child’s life. Barring a move to another state or a change of insurance, the pediatrician will care for the child from birth through college. Therefore, parents should find a doctor with whom they can communicate comfortably.

In addition to a doctor’s communication style, parents will want to know about the doctor’s philosophy of health care and education. A pediatrician can take a prominent role in helping a child to develop healthy, lifelong habits. Topics that should be included in a child’s well-visits include information about nutrition, exercise and the risks of behaviors like smoking and drinking.  In addition, pediatricians should speak frankly with patients about maturation, hygiene and mental health.

To optimize this relationship, parents should be honest about the family’s health history.  For example, if the family has a history of early heart disease, the pediatrician can be proactive in explaining the benefits of a healthy diet and exercise. Similarly, if several family members have experienced bouts of depression, the pediatrician will be more intentional about mental health education. Parents should also apprise the doctor of any changes in a child’s life that could affect physical or mental health, such as a divorce or difficulty in school. Information like this helps the doctor care for the “whole child.”

Teachers

For the most part, a classroom teacher will have direct interaction with a child for only 180 days, but the influence of teachers is immeasurable. Therefore, this relationship must be developed quickly and efficiently. To facilitate this, parents can write a letter of introduction at the beginning of the school year. This one-page letter can outline a child’s strengths and needs, as well as information about the child’s family, health and development. While teachers spend a tremendous amount of time reviewing student’s files and talking with previous teachers, this letter of introduction serves as a succinct summary that will facilitate the teacher’s understanding of the student.  “It was so helpful to have all of the information on one page—from the parent’s perspective,” one elementary school teacher commented after reading such a letter.

As the year progresses, parents can fortify the home-school relationship by volunteering in the classroom. This can be a mutually beneficial situation: teachers appreciate the hands-on help while parents see first-hand what is happening during the child’s day. This provides insight into the curriculum and also the mood and culture of the classroom.

In addition to volunteering, attending open houses, special events, and school conferences will deepen a parents’ understanding of the curriculum and the teaching staff. As with doctors, parents should apprise teachers of any changes occurring at home that might affect a child’s learning. This can assist teachers as they interact with and plan for the child.

Clergy

For many families, a child’s spiritual health is as important as physical health or educational progress. Nurturing this aspect of a child’s development begins at home, but is complemented to a great degree by rabbis and pastors. Communication with clergy becomes particularly important when students enter middle and high school. At this phase, youth are beginning think critically about their own values and goals while trying to assert their independence. As a result, they will often seek guidance from peers or from adults other than their parents. A youth leader is in an enviable position to guide students’ decision making and shape their ideals.

For this reason, solid communication is paramount between clergy and parents.  It will be helpful for parents to thoroughly read newsletters and church websites to find updated information on programming.  Parents can also do their part by helping their child arrive on time and prepared for youth group meetings. Offering to drive, cook, or chaperone events also enhances this relationship.

When choosing a faith community, parents should feel comfortable asking the youth workers about their values and style of relating to students. In addition, parents should be aware of how crises might be handled and how the staff handles discussions about peer pressure, moral decision-making and the “gray areas” of growing up.

Friends

Peers wield a tremendous amount of influence on children, especially as they enter middle and high school. Parents’ relationships with their children’s friends can provide insight and information that proves extraordinarily valuable in understanding the power structure of the peer group and also a child’s social strengths and challenges.

When forming relationships with kids’ friends, parents should maintain their status as adults; being “one of the gang” is not appropriate. Even as children enter the teenage years, they continue to need structure and limits from their parents. With that in mind, parents can encourage relationships by taking an interest in the group’s activities. When parents offer to host the cast party for the school play, or cook for the team’s pre-game “pig out,” they show a measure of support and also make themselves available to observe the interactions of the peer group.

While volunteer opportunities are valuable, parents should be very intentional about welcoming their children’s friends into the home. “I spend a lot of time making my house ‘the place kids want to be,’ said one mother of teenagers. To create an environment that is attractive to her sons’ friends, she asked for their input, but also imposed her own rules and limits. Parents need not worry if their house is small or their budget doesn’t allow for high-ticket home entertainment systems; when kids feel welcome and comfortable, they’re likely to  come—and stay. One family hosts weekly dinners to which the teens invite their friends. Another family purchased a second-hand ping-pong table, which draws in neighborhood children. These are simple, low-cost solutions that open the door to developing relationships with kids’ friends.

A wireless phone company, in its latest advertising campaign, touts “a reliable network that keeps you connected.” Customers, by the click of a mouse, can set up a network that enhances communication. For parents, however, creating and maintaining a “reliable network” takes time and effort. By nurturing relationships with peers and adults in their child’s life, parents can create their own “circle,” which will provide them with assistance, reliable information and most importantly, an enhanced sense of connection with their child.
 
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