Since I have raised five children, and worked for almost two decades in a public school, I have lived through some ridiculous number of September back-to-school seasons and, I confess, I have always really loved the whole ritual of going back-to-school. Even when I didn’t want summer to end, I still loved the tradition of back-to-school. The newness of it all was always exciting to me: new beginnings, new clothes, the fresh haircuts, new pens, pencils, post-its, seeing all the people, grown-ups and kids alike, that I didn’t even know I missed. It was always a special time of year. And, as you can imagine, I learned a few things along the way that I call The Seven September Truths. I am offering them today as something for you to consider as you begin this New Year.
1. The child who left school in June is often not the same child who returns in September. Even though summer may seem like a quick ten weeks, children learn a lot of executive functioning skills in the summer that they do not learn in the classroom, they grow and change physically, mentally, emotionally and they can be very different when they go back-to-school. I don’t care what the previous teacher wrote, what your experience is as the returning teacher, or as the parent who knows the child better than anyone, look for what is different about the child. It’s there. I promise.
2. Likewise, by September, you are probably not the same parent, teacher, or professional that you were back in June. At a minimum, you have had a change in schedule, different things to plan for, time to think, time to review, time to recover, time to grow, time to be frustrated over completely different things from the previous school year. That break has likely brought you a host of new ideas and new ways to approach the school year.
3. If you do not look carefully, you may miss the growth a child has made over the summer break. Children do not typically notice their own growth and development, so you might have to notice it for them and point it out. For instance, you might have to point out that you are not having that “same old argument” because you are having a whole new argument. I know this may not be a popular view, but I think when a child gives up a long help position for a new position, it can be progress, especially in kids who can be rigid and resistant to change. It may be useful to point out that you love that the child is picking a new and better argument for the school year. Sometimes this point of view gives children a safe space to consider their own behavior in a unique way.
4. A new start to the school year gives you a whole new opportunity to establish “team” with children. I really think language defines so much of how we operate and, if you set up a context of team, you are minimizing the division that occurs between teachers and students, parents and children, administrators and the rules. Especially when I am on opposite sides of an issue with a child, parent or professional, I say “I am on your team. We are on the same team.” as often as is appropriate. Verbalizing this is a good reminder to everyone, myself included.
5. You are doing your best. The kids are doing their best. I have a friend who has always said, “We make a million decisions a day, most of them are good decisions, so give yourself a break when you make one that is wrong.” I have heard over and over again that “one oh crap” takes away “ten atta girls” and I vehemently disagree. You are doing your best and I propose that is actually enough. Raising kids is not easy. Teaching is not easy. Working in a school system is not easy.
6. Celebrate the small victories along the way. In fact, celebrate every small victory you can, even if you keep score by making hash marks on a post-it. Who cares? Keep track of all the small victories. The small victories are how we make any real progress towards our goals anyway. And be bold about celebrating them!!! Be proud!!! No one can take away your victories!!!
7. Stay hydrated and try to see to it that the children stay hydrated. I know, I know. This is so not in line with the rest of what I have written, but I am convinced, absolutely convinced, that much of what we experience as mood disruption, frustration, lack of focus, and so forth, is often related to nutrition in general, specifically not drinking enough water.
So, there you have it! My Seven September Truths!!! I hope they leave you with ideas to think about, with the clear message of how great you are, and with one more resource for your school year!!!
Happy New Year!!!