St. Louis City Schools

The Parent Trap

There’s a fine line between being involved and being a “helicopter” parent. Here are five tips for finding the right balance.

Illustration by Mike Ellis, Originally published in St. Louis Magazine

1. Take advantage of tech tools.

Online gradebooks, blogs showcasing students’ work, and email reminders about upcoming field trips didn’t exist a decade ago. Today, though, technology has made it far easier for parents and schools to communicate. “But no piece of technology replaces the value of one-on-one interactions between teachers and parents,” says School District of Clayton spokesman Chris Tennill.

2. Remember: Kids have different learning styles.

When it comes to establishing good homework habits, it’s helpful for families to carve out a dedicated time and space at home, says Matt Virgil, head of Chesterfield Day School. Yet what works well for one child might not for another. “If he or she needs absolute quiet, it might be best to use his or her bedroom for homework,” he says. “If he or she benefits from having you nearby, the kitchen table may be a good spot for homework.”

3. Let education be its own motivator.

Be careful about tying good grades to rewards, such as screen time or shopping trips. It can work as a short-term motivator, but “earning the privilege can become the focus, rather than learning and success at school,” says Crossroads College Preparatory School head Jason Heisserer.

4. Allow kids to make mistakes—safely.

It can be difficult for a parent to stand by while a child flounders. But keep in mind that “learning from our mistakes and failures is valuable,” says Heisserer. What matters is that students “fail forward,” notes Virgil, and learn from the experience.

5. Be a good sport.

For some parents, it’s easy to get wrapped up in sporting events. “It’s great for parents to be involved,” says Mike Roth, director of athletics and activities for Parkway School District, but it’s also just a game.

Tim Woodcock is a guide to schools in the city of Saint Louis; made for parents, by parents.

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