Although your child will begin to function more independently in the early elementary grades, he still needs your guidance, supervision, and support. By the beginning of the 2nd grade, many students — but certainly not all — are reading at grade level. Some may even be reading easy chapter books.
Late bloomers do catch up, but if reading remains a struggle for your child, take a closer look and check with the teacher to see if further testing is warranted. Because of the wide diversity of reading levels, kids may think that everyone else is smarter than they are.
Here are the five things your child needs most:
1. Realistic expectations. Young children look mostly to parents to define their emotional reality. Your facial expression, attitudes, praise, and criticism form a mirror into which she peers for basic judgments and confirmation about herself. That's why setting realistic expectations for your child, based on her innate abilities and interests (not on your own unfulfilled needs) is crucial. It's worth remembering that all children aren't superstars — and that character and happiness aren't measured by class rank.
2. A can-do attitude. True self-esteem comes from real accomplishments. Needless to say, the more competent children feel, the more motivated they'll be to stick with a difficult task or try something new. This is especially important for a child who doesn't show much initiative. Instead of jumping right in with five ideas for his science project, take a mental step back and see what he comes up with first. The child who senses your faith in his abilities will learn to trust his perceptions and judgments, derive more satisfaction from his accomplishments, and stay motivated. In the long run, he'll be better equipped to handle the typical rigors and disappointments of school without feeling like a failure.
3. Good social skills. Winning a popularity contest isn't the goal; helping your child gain confidence in social encounters is. She needs to understand what it means to be a friend and that not everyone will have the same abilities, interests, or opinions that she does. If your child is struggling with peers, role-play effective ways to stand up for herself and express her feelings without being bossy or alienating others.
4. Parents who feel good about themselves. Kids take their cues from you, so pay attention to how you act and react to stress in your own life. Do you lose your temper at the guy who just pulled into the last parking space in the lot, the one that was clearly yours? Do you drag work frustrations home? Are you critical about yourself — "I can't believe I did such a stupid thing?" — as you slam the car keys on the table? Hand-me-down stress manifests itself in myriad ways in your child: physical symptoms, anger, whining, irritability, even a regression in learning and motivation.
5. A balance between school and after-school. It's important for children to explore many areas of success, inside and outside the classroom. The ability to catch a fly ball deep into left field or play a piece on the piano will trigger good feelings that extend to other areas of life. Make it clear that you value all of your child's accomplishments. However, keep your eyes and ears open so you know when an activity is putting to much pressure on your child.