McNerney: Starting the School Year on the Right Foot

By Neil McNerney

Chapter 9 of my book, “Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!,” was actually written by a group of 7th graders. I was invited to my son’s English class to teach them about the writing process. It became a great opportunity for me to understand the minds of middle schoolers and what they want from their parents.

The teacher, Virginia Walker, and her class were a ton of fun and kept me on my toes the whole time. The fascinating part began when the topic turned to their parents’ involvement in their school work. I decided to have them write down some of their thoughts.

Specifically, I asked them to write on this question: “When it comes to schoolwork, I wish my parents would …” Here are some of their answers:


I Wish My Parents Would…                     

  • Help only when I ask for it.
  • Don’t remind me about my projects every five minutes. If I’m not freaking out, you don’t have to, either. Even though I have only two days to finish a project it makes me feel bad when you freak out.
  • Encourage me rather than scold me.
  • Use positive reinforcement.
  • Back off when I don’t get an A.
  • Compare me less.
  • Stop checking the school website because they think I’m lying about my homework.
  • Stop worrying about when I start my projects or when I finish them.
  • Trust me a little more. Even though I don’t want to, I will do my homework because I don’t want a lower grade just because I was lazy.
  • Trust me that I have time to do it later therefore not nag me.
  • Don’t nag me. I know I need to do it!
  • When I ask for your help, don’t talk to me like I’m a baby.
  • Just let me take care of my own schedule and get my homework done on my own time.


There are so many themes in what the students had to say. I’d like to focus on one of them: Trust.

One of the most important things our kids need to know is that we believe that they want to succeed, that they want to do the right thing; that they want to get good grades. I have not met a kid who starts his day thinking, “Today, my goal is to do horrible on everything at school. I really, really want to fail today!”

The dilemma for parents is that if our kids want trust, they shouldn’t lie. Honesty is something all parents want from, and for, their children. Have you ever met a parent who, when talking about his children, has said, “I really hope to raise a dishonest, sneaky, liar”?

So, when our kids lie to us, it’s a blow to our self-esteem as a parent … our “parent esteem.” Am I raising a liar? What do his teachers think about him…and about me if I am raising a liar? It’s pretty easy to connect our trust of our children to whether they have earned it. In “real life,” you wouldn’t trust someone who lies to you, right? In real life, trust is slowly earned, and quickly broken.

We have a dilemma. Our kids want us to trust them more, and we want them to be more trustworthy. Be more worthy of my trust, and I will give it to you. Unfortunately, the parent-child relationship is full of these dilemmas. The following is a path out of this dilemma.

Solution: Believe in your children, but don’t always believe them. Our kids need to know that we “believe in them.” This is quite a bit different than whether we “believe them.” They seem like such similar sayings: Believe Me. Believe In Me. Just a difference of one word.

When we believe in our kids, we acknowledge that we are on the same team as they are. We all want the same thing—success for our kids. We want our kids to be successful. Our kids want to be successful. We believe they have the ability to be successful and that, with hard work, success is bound to happen. We believe in them. We trust that they want to do the right thing…most of the time.

On the other hand, there are many times when we probably should not believe our kids, for a number of reasons. Just because your child lies, it doesn’t mean you can no longer trust him. The vast majority of kids will lie, at some point (or many points) about their schoolwork. This does not mean they are immoral. It does not mean you can no longer trust them. It means you had better be careful believing everything they say.

Save The Date! On Oct. 14, I will be participating in Loudoun County Public School’s parent seminar series Navigating The Path To Wellness! This will be a day of inspiring speakers and trainers that will help all of us become better parents. I will be providing a breakout session on developing grit and perseverance. Go to for more information.


Neil McNerney

[Neil McNerney is a licensed professional counselor and author of Homework – A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out! and The Don’t Freak Out Guide for Parenting Kids with Asperger’s. He can be reached at 703-352-9002 and [email protected]]

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