It’s a first-day-of-school assignment that’s probably been happening since the dawn of time. And I can almost guarantee that every kid’s essay or show-and-tell will be filled with all peaks, no valleys; all smooth sailing, no rough waters; all . . . well, you get the picture.
This year, what if we (kids, parents, teachers) ask our kids a new question: “How would you like to spend your school year?”
As a mom, grandma, and health care professional, I’ve seen a lot of anxiety generated as summer ends and school begins. And I’ll be the first to admit I sometimes blew off my kids’ concerns with what I thought was reassurance. “Don’t worry about (whatever), you’ll be fine.” But my older, wiser self knows that stress and anxiety are not so easily dealt with. First, though, you have to know what the kids are anxious about.
Talk to them! “How would you like to spend your school year?” is a great dialog opener. Answers may range from, “I want (insert bully’s name here) to leave me alone!” to “I don’t want to fail any math tests.” to “I want to make some new friends.” to “I don’t want to be such a loser at soccer!” Experts tell us that, whatever their goals are, kids are usually willing to talk about them if they know our response will be encouraging rather than dismissive.
And they need to talk, because kids (just like adults) increase their stress by dwelling on the same negative ideas in their heads. According to Dr. Blair Hammond talking with kids about their stressors can desensitize a child to them.
So when they express concerns about making new friends, talk with them about what kind of friends they’d like and then brainstorm with them about how to forge new friendships. Or if they’re afraid of being bullied, discuss how that makes them feel (panicked at the sight of him/her, angry, victimized, etc.) and consider together what they can do to avoid feeling like that. Hone in on self-deprecating phrasing like, “I don’t want to be a loser” or “I don’t want to be a failure.” Help them identify what makes them feel like that and how they might be able to recognize and deal with it.
Use your dialogs (plural!) to give your kids power. Acknowledge the things they already do well, and help identify the skills that will help them meet new goals. Giving kids a sense of their own strengths will build their self-esteem. And that could help make this school year the best one yet.
Talk to us, too, and be sure to share your experiences and resources on Facebook.com/@Simplysuccessfulkids. Having a hard time starting conversations with your child about their emotion? Check our social emotional learning stories for kids. Let Fiona the Fearful Fish or Digger the Doubtful Dog get the conversation started.
Debra Timmerman is an R.N., a Healing Touch practitioner, and co-founder of Simply Successful Kids.
Next blog: Meditation, mindfulness and self-regulation!