On his last day of preschool, my son’s sweet teacher saw my quivering lip and approached me.
I was freaking out about him leaving the nurturing environment and I’m not the kind of person who hides this thing well, nor do I try. As the graduating children ran around the tiny playground with the tiny swings for the last time, Miss Maria put her hand on my shoulder and said this:
“It will take time to adjust, but he will. Just remember that school is his new job.”
This bit of wisdom stuck with me through his transition and helped again with my daughter’s move to kindergarten two years later. I consider her advice a gem.
It’s something I share every year with parents who are fighting through their own quivering lips and freak outs. It holds up and it helps us take our children’s point of view—which is, in essence, the most important piece to parenting consciously.
I’m going to break it down here to show just how good this advice is:
New School Year = New Job = Huge Adjustment
New School Year = New Office
Even if a child is returning to a familiar building, the classroom is most likely new. To better understand what this feels like to our children, imagine being assigned to a new job in your current place of work building and the new job requires that you relocate your office. Even though much is familiar, there are still things to adjust to: new route to work inside the building, new route to closest bathroom and lunchroom, new light if the windows face a new direction; new smells; new ambient sounds. All in all, it takes some getting used to.
New School Year = New Boss
With very few exceptions, children in school have a new teacher every year; often they have more than one teacher in a year. What does it mean to have a new boss? Think about it: new rules, new preferences, new quirks, new expectations, and new management style. If I had a new boss to meet and impress, I’d be nervous and excited (my kids call this combo “nervited”). With this in mind, it’s helpful to share some basic strategies with our children to start on a positive note. Here’s one: “Smile and say ‘good morning’ every day to your teacher.” It’s so simple and can help kids feel more confident because they’ll know what to do in the moment.
New School Year = New Colleagues
Most children enter the new school year knowing few (if any) other classmates. Some schools give class lists beforehand, but even still, there’s usually a whole bunch of kids who your child does not know. On top of everything else going on, add the fact that your child’s new work mates will be x-factors. Will they be kind? Who will be the top dog? Is there a potential lunch buddy? Even for true extroverts, this sort of uncertainty can raise heart rates. For the introverts out there, facing an unknown peer situation might be downright stressful.
I share this “New Job” concept because I found it so useful with my own children and I deeply care about the wellbeing of all kids. Thinking about the new school year this way encourages us to see things from our children’s point of view and fosters empathy from us. Without taking their perspective, we tend to be impatient and blind to their feelings.
Maybe our own school experiences, good or bad, color our interactions as well. If we enjoyed school but our children are struggling, we might not be able to provide adequate empathy. Or perhaps we hated school and our kids love it—which we find relieving, but feel a little jealous of their experience or sad as we remember our own. Either way, if our own story is in the way of being attuned to our children’s authentic experiences, our connection with them will be weakened and they’ll feel unseen by us.
The best way to combat this is to have our own feelings in check before we engage with our kids about school. If we have unresolved experiences to process, it’s best to discharge that stuff with a friend or therapist.
This enables us to be present and available to our children. Of course, we can share our stories (kids love hearing them!) but let’s be sure that our own need to talk about the past doesn’t overshadow their current experience. With our own needs met, we can more accurately read our children and meet their needs in the present moment.
I wish you and your sweet children a wonderful new year!
Author: Laine Lipsky
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Sara Kärpänen