‘Spring Cleaning’ Poor Parenting Habits Turned My Kid’s School Year Around

With the kids around for 9 days, Spring Break could be just the right time for spring cleaning your parenting. Ellyn Ong Vea, content editor and writing coach at More Than SAT, shares a personal experience of starting to clear some poor parenting habits from her home. 

New seasons inspire new resolutions (and alliterations) for me. At the start of one summer, I came up with: Don’t be wired and witchy, but get sleep and be sweet. That was the year I made this what-to-do-more-of list: sleep, slow down, simplify, and smile. The aims are usually both personal and parenting goals.

But it wasn’t resolutions that sparked a change that came about in our family at the onset of spring 2017. It was a bad report card.

My then first-grade son brought home his third-term report card that opened my eyes. While his academics were great, “Personal Growth/Work Habits” were poor. (What good are good academics with a bad attitude?) The worst “habits” showed a lack of respect for and cooperation with others.

It hit me that I hadn’t effectively dealt with these issues in the home, the very place where they developed. And what great timing for the report to come just before Spring Break, so we could address them in the home where he’d be for nine consecutive days. (Well, “home” was out of town for a few of those days, but with home being where family issame thing.)

Have you noticed something in your parenting that needs “spring cleaning” or that could use a spring makeover? Spring Break could be just the right timewith the kids around for just the right amount of timeto get the job done. The results could be a happier, refreshed child who’s ready to finish the school year strong.

In my spring cleanup job, there were the more obvious things that had to go. The “Who did this?!” shouting that encourages finger pointing and shrinks my three kids back from accepting responsibility for their actions. The lecturing that’s more like an extra punishment. The cornering that forces a “confession” or a petulant “sorry.” Those things were like fixtures in our home, so bringing them out to the trash required more effort, but at least I began to break them down so I could start to take them out bit by bit.

Then there were the less obvious things. My husband and I didn’t think much about the way we commonly said to whichever kid was lagging while we were trying to get out the door, “Hurry up; we’re leaving you!” or “You’re the last one!” We used the same words when someone, likely after messing around at the dining table, was still trying to finish up a meal when our family was already moving on to the next activity.

Yet the effects became apparent when the 3-year-old taunted the 5-year-old, “I’m more done with my food than you!” to which the 5-year-old retorted, “It’s not a race!” But my husband and I had actually made everyday things a race, and not a fun one. We were unwittingly pitting the kids against each other in daily activities.

The spring makeover brought a new approach: “We’re leaving now, and all of us are heading out the door together, right?” And, “Finish your meal now because we’re going to start the movie soon, and we are watching it all together.”

Whatever else we did during that spring break in emphasizing kindness and cooperation within the family apparently stayed with our first-grader. On his first Monday back at school, I received an email from his teacher that he had an “AWESOME day!” (Yes, all caps and an exclamation mark.) She wrote, “He was respectful, kind, and made excellent choices all day!” That day marked a turnaround in what had been a rough school year.  

At our last parent-teacher conference, the first-grade teacher reported continued improvement in personal growth and work habits. “It started with whatever happened to him over Spring Break,” she said.

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