The beach vacations, road trips, and getaways have been had. Summer camp is long over with. Coupons on school supplies from your local department stores have been rolling in the mail a few weeks now in tidal-wave form, crashing into your tv set as Billy Madison rolls its 3rd re-run of the day. $300 off at Best Buy for that new Lenovo laptop you were eye-ing a few months ago? What type of pencil case defines my child as a person? Why does my child's school supply list look more similar to a doomsday prepper checklist!?
And the speckled notebooks. All of those stacked, twenty-nine-cent speckled notebooks in your local Walgreens, towering over the premises like multicolored skyscrapers leaning under the flickering fluorescent light. I thought we'd be done with speckled notebooks by 2018. They would always lose their binding and fall apart by Christmas break, but the nostalgia always pulls you back into buying a set over those abrasive spiral notebooks.
Maybe it's just that feeling of the beginning of the school year. I was always skeptical when my 3rd grade teachers would tell me that everyone starts off with an A in the beginning of the year, because I felt A's were earned. Don't get me wrong, I wasn't complaining. We were all big fans of this proposition.
But Mrs. Hassell was trying to communicate that it's a clean slate from that point and that it was on us to keep that A (also, to tell a bunch of eight-year-olds that they all actually have zero's would be cruel and counter-productive).
It's a new beginning. A fresh start.
I've found that people take this information in different ways. Some are quite happy about how last year went and want to just keep the ball rollin'. Some take it as the beginning chapter to a redemption story. Maybe we fell a little short the year before. We were in a "rebuilding period" as some franchise owners would say. Proud in some areas, but the yearning for improvement is prevalent and we're excited for what is to come for this year.
Others, though, utilize it as fuel for procrastination. Still getting over the summer blues, if you will. All the way into mid-October. "I've got all year. What's the rush?"
Form is everything though. Any high-performing athlete could tell you that in his or her line of work. And when we start off behind and still looking for proper footing early in the race, it's really tough to catch up.
So here are a few useful tips for some of you parents out there who have some slight beginning-of-the-year jitters and want to help your kids start off on the right foot for the upcoming school year:
Set the tone - Build up that confidence! I've mentioned in a past blog post that our kids are a lot smarter than we give them credit for. They pick up on vibes. If you present yourself as doubtful about a particular situation, they will feed off of that energy. They look to you for empowerment and direction.
It's a race...with yourself - It's human nature to compare your experiences to the experiences of others. Your kids are going to do it and you're going to do it. But try to resist the urge to. Instead of focusing on how another child is doing, adjust the focus to where your child was a year ago. Six months ago. Three months ago. A week ago. Trying to be a better version of who we were yesterday is the task of a lifetime, so the sooner we teach our children to embrace growth and trust the process with hard work, self-compassion, love, and patience, the better off they'll be.
Build a routine - Expectations help generate security. Build a routine your kids can depend on. Set breakfast times, homework times, dinner times, play times, bath times, and bed times. Make some rules and stick to them. Be wary about putting a reset to that routine on the weekends too. Restrict technology. Sleep, hygiene, and nutrition cannot be neglected; and as of this writing, there is no substitute for it. Most maladaptive behaviors or mental health challenges in early child or adolescent development have at least some roots in these areas.
Create some goals - Sit down early in the year and set some goals for the school year with your kids. Check in with them. Talk to them. Make sure they're concrete, measurable, and attainable. If possible, build a rewards system around it to generate extrinsic motivation so that it encourages an internal drive.
Empower Developmentally-Appropriate Autonomy - Having worked with hundreds of adolescents, one key challenge I've seen is the seemingly expedited process of establishing autonomy. The stinging phrase "you're only a few years away from being an adult" creates such a distinct grimace once landed, and it couldn't be closer to the truth in those cases. But building a sense of independence does not start when your children are thirteen. It starts far earlier. So try to instill ownership in your children early in with developmentally appropriate tasks and hold them to those expectations regularly. He or she will thank you for it later on.
Collaborate when necessary - You cannot put a price on the value of a collaborative relationship with a teacher, school counselor, administrator, tutor, therapist, or pediatrician. They can extinguish anxiety, provide helpful insight, aid in tracking progress, and give peace of mind. Having been in private practice and a previous school counselor for years, I can tell you that even a moderately over-involved, but proactive parent with good intentions is an absolute delight to hear from. It's the often withdrawn and distant parents who cause the most strain and heartache. So don't feel shy about reaching out, even if it's early in the school year.
Take interest in academics, but nourish the whole relationship - Check in with your kids and monitor them about school accordingly. Sometimes, that may demand more focus and attention. But remember that academics isn't everything. Don't reduce your relationship with them to performance evaluation. Have some curiosity with their interests. Their social circles. Their beliefs. Their perspective on things. Share a hobby. Do things together as a family. Being a kid today has its own set of unique challenges. Show them regardless of the circumstance, that they can depend on you for love and support.
Questions? Comments? Feel free to shoot me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and best of luck to you and your family for the following school year!