1. THE NIGHT BEFORE: Don't remind your kids school starts the next morning. They know it and they're anxious/excited enough. If you're anxious, please hide it. You might be excited, but they might not be, so quiet calm is the goal. Get everything prepared even if you have to do it yourself. Have a "Plan B" outfit in case "someone" wakes up in an irritable mood. They may not know what they want to eat, if indeed, they can eat at all. Adrenalin dumping causes an acidic taste in the mouth along with nausea. If they don't want to eat, they'll survive. Don't battle it out with them. Make sure they have a snack. Once they're in school, they'll get hungry.
Mother's Note: I love the Special K drinks. They're not grainy, don't need to be refrigerated until opened, are not too much for a kid to consume in 2.5 minutes and kids can guzzle them down and take off to play. I think they have fairly balanced nutrition and they're gluten-free. I buy them at Target, but they seem to offer only the 4-pack at my store. Check it out. In my practice, I make the suggestion and offer one to "my kids" so Mom and Dad don't have to buy a pack. If they like it, great. We're off and running, so to speak. At least they get some nutrition during the day. Most of the drinks have about 10 grams of protein.
2. AVOID: Making references to "last year" and any problems that came up. It's over. It was last year. Don't contaminate today with yesterday.
3. THE MORNING OF: No matter WHAT happens, do not respond to their anxiety or irritability. Problem-solve. If they are rude, overlook it. If they are aggressive, get out of their way. Deal with it at another time. They are "over the top"...whatever...(anxious, afraid, upset, excited) and they have no idea how to handle themselves. They need to "rent" your emotional state. Make sure you are healthy in this brief moment in time in order to launch them into school.
Be prepared to NOT TAKE ANYTHING PERSONALLY. It's not you. They're flailing and they'll puke their feelings all over anyone within arm's reach. Lower your voice, pace your words, don't offer any suggestions or reassurances unless they ask for those things. You can't do a thing about the fact that this is the first day of school. They gotta go and you gotta get them there. Let's leave no bodies in the wake.
Language to avoid:
- "You'll be fine" (Their stomachs are churning, but while they're still coping, they sure aren't "fine")
- "You're gonna have a great time"...maybe, maybe not
- "You'll make lots of friends"...maybe, maybe not
- "You'll finally learn to read this year"...don't make promises you can't keep
- "I'll be home if you need me"...suggests that they'll need an escape/rescue
Give these a "go":
- "I have confidence in you that you'll do your best" (can't ask for anything more than that!)
- "You must be proud of (getting up on time, brushing your teeth, dressing yourself, organizing. whatever)."
- "We did a great job this morning. We make a good team."
- "There'll be something special today after school to celebrate the first day being over and done"...(special dessert, etc.). For the really little ones (K-2) a picture of the treat or a little note can be helpful.
4. AT SCHOOL: This tip is for elementary-level families. Please don't "rush the teacher" as they try to "herd the cats". It's their job, like yours, to make sure a positive tone is set for the first day of school. They cannot assess the kids, get them settled and underway and deal with you, too. If you see them, give them a "thumbs up" and a "big smile" and take off.
A. IF YOU'VE HEARD NEGATIVE THINGS ABOUT THE TEACHER, CONSIDER THE SOURCE. Your child may have a wonderful experience. There are things you may not know about your friend's kid or your friend's behavior with this teacher. Give them a chance.
B. DO NOT BEFRIEND YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER. This constitutes a "dual relationship" and your child may suffer for it. If you're the teacher's friend, s/he may not feel comfortable approaching you with any concerns. After all, who wants to disappoint a friend? If you get into conflict, do you want her minimizing your concerns because she knows you are having marital problems or you belt back the booze during "happy hour"? Keep it professional, not personal.
C. COMMUNICATE CLEARLY AND CONCISELY. E-mail teachers at the beginning of the year and let them know their jobs are challenging and you support them. Give them e-mails and other ways to communicate with you. Teachers are human, believe it or not, with their own pressures and pain. Help them to help your child. Don't let problems fester. It's very tough to pull up a grade or to make up work. If this has been a problem in the past, address it immediately. Some kids fall apart at the beginning of the year and some in the middle. Let them know what you know so you can team up.
D. SPECIAL NEEDS OR CIRCUMSTANCES? Type up a brief, bullet-pointed summary. On the front of this "Fast Facts" sheet, list strengths and then, weaknesses. On the back, jot down ideas that have worked in the past in the "How You Can Help" section. Slip it into a card along with a "memento" of thanks (I always included a $5 or $10 Starbucks card) and put it in their school mailboxes. [During the 9th grade, our beloved dog, Murphy, died. Our son was heartbroken. I reached out to teachers to tell them that he may be irritable and sad. The outpouring of compassion and their personal stories of "fur family" losses were extremely touching.]
Well, what about Mom and Dad? Most parents of kindergartners, 1st graders, 6th graders and 9th graders are anxious/excited. I give anxious and excited the same "billing" because, to the body, it all feels the same. Adrenaline is dumping. Heart rate and blood pressure increase and there's that all-too-familiar twinge of nausea floating around the edges. It's hard to think and it's even more difficult to manage emotions. Sound familiar?
Many of you, especially parents of kindergartners and college freshmen, experience a particularly poignant sense of loss. Frequently referred to as "necessary losses", these changes in our children cause us to grieve even just a little bit for the days that have gone by. When a child moves from the crib to the "big girl bed", there's a twinge. When he feeds himself or masters toilet training, there it is again. It happens oh so frequently throughout the course of our children's development, but some events are more public than others and although celebrated by friends and family, the major milestones can bring a lump to the throat.
OK then! Get out there!
TTFN (Ta ta for now!)