By Nicole Assisi, CEO, Thrive Public Schools
At this time of year, people begin sharing articles about how to prepare kids for back-to-school. Whether you’re a teacher or parent, you likely have mixed opinions about the topic itself. Frankly, most articles make me cringe, as they try to instill a sense of fear in parents about their child’s readiness (or rather, lack thereof). As a mom of an incoming Kindergartener with special needs, I have a unique perspective about parents’ real fears: we simply want our kids to be ready, fit in, and not be left behind. As an educator, I wish I could help everyone take a collective deep breath when it comes to preparation for the school year.
Like other educators, I greatly appreciate the commitment parents demonstrate. As a mom, I can tell you that I know what it feels like to get up every day with the intention to do your best. Sometimes my best is somewhat mediocre and others, it’s pretty darn good parenting--but the reality is, we all love our children and try to do the best that we can with them.
As parents, some days we must acknowledge that there’s not enough energy in the world to handle one more meltdown over a broken graham cracker. So before reading any further, know that your work as a parent (and/or educator) is hard, influential and so incredibly important. How we raise our kids sets the tone for a successful future, and I’m not talking about the number of activities they’re involved in or even if they get straight A’s. Building positive habits early on prepares our kids for a more autonomous and inspired existence. While it may seem light-years away as you watch them finger-paint, the future--and their role in it--is swiftly on its way.
That said, I’ll put on my educator hat and share four pivotal social and emotional learning experiences that we truly wish every kid had--and that we know you can help us foster:
1. Championing moments of independence. Being able to take care of yourself creates security and will help your child believe in themselves to solve other problems. And of course, it’s a feeling and a skill they’ll take with them throughout their lives. So when your child goes to school, you’ll want them to know how to make it through the day independently. If they have a bathroom-related accident--hey, it happens!--this might mean that they’re able to know where they have fresh clothes and how to change themselves. If they aren’t yet able to manage buttons, having elastic bottoms are key. As cute as tied shoes are, if a kid cannot tie them, they’re better left at home. (Kids want to feel a sense of self control, and most teachers don’t have the capacity to tie 24 pairs of shoes multiple times a day.) Taking gradual steps to help your kids learn to do things on their own--from taking care of themselves to assuming more responsibilities at home and at school--will give them the confidence they need to navigate an increasingly independent life.
2. Experiencing struggle or failure. Failure, it has been said, is an incredible teacher. (If you’ve not yet read the book a Blessing of a Skinned Knee, I highly recommend it!) As parents, we often try to shield our children from experiencing failure, pain or disappointment. We let them win when we play board games together, we buy them new ice cream when their scoop falls on the floor. The belief that it’s others’ responsibility to help a child feel better rather than allowing them to feel true disappointment is counterproductive, especially as school begins. Not only does it create unrealistic expectations, it robs them of the very important lesson that even when things aren’t going perfectly, they’ll be OK.
After feeling sad, kids can instead be able to self-soothe, realizing that this, too, shall pass and that they can find a way to create new happiness following a disappointment. And struggle itself is not a dirty word. Whether it involves a conflict with a child or a hard time learning academic concepts, there is much that children can learn from adversity. So instead of contacting teachers or administrators when kids encounter problems, try talking through some possible solutions with your child. Ask them questions and help them realize they possess great inner strength and an ability to overcome challenges.
3. Learning to solve conflict with a friend. Our kids have a lifetime of conflict resolution ahead of them. Learning how to deal with effectively starts at a young age, whether disputes involve other siblings or friends. As adults on the playground (whether as teachers or parents) we frequently feel compelled to solve problems for kids. Sometimes because it is easier, other times because we worry about a child’s resilience. Let’s all think back to our own childhood and those memories of recess, and realize that we are pretty darn resilient. The next time your kid encounters a problem, rather than stepping in to solve it for them, try prompting them to think about what if is happening.
Try these questions:
1. What do you need?
2. What does your friend need?
3. What are all the possible solutions you can think of?
4. Which one do you think would work best right now?
If your child refuses to solve problems, it’s OK for you to make the choice to leave and go home. That might sound harsh, but setting an expectation that they need to solve a problem if they want to continue engaging in an activity is reasonable and will set them up for success. (Here is another excellent resource for why and how to solve problems.)
4. Following a group plan. Just as embracing independence is important, so, too, is learning how to compromise and see the bigger picture. This can be an especially tough prospect for ‘only’ children with regard to group plans. When most of the day consists of an adult asking them what they want to do, plans seem not only to be spur-of-the-moment, but also tend to revolve around the kid. Again, no judgment from my end; I’ve committed way worse parenting offenses! What I mean is that it’s worthwhile to help a child understand that there can indeed be group plans, and that while their idea can become part of that plan, ultimately it may not always happen. I have found that using sentence structures like “First, we will...” to “And then we can...” help set children up to understand that others’ priorities also must be considered.
The Best Part: Our Goals Are Aligned
At the end of the day, keep breathing and know that teachers and parents want the same thing! Sometimes, trying our best is pretty awesome and sometimes it won’t turn out the way we’d hoped. Extend the same grace to others that you’d like them to extend to you. Think long-term wins of building a relationship with the person who spends the majority of their day with your kid; they do want the same things as you for your little one: success, learning, and growth! Sometimes, when your strategy and theirs may appear be at odds, I’ve found the most productive questions to ask are:
- “What are your hopes and dreams for my child?”
- “What are the best strategies for the current situation to help us achieve these goals?”
Teaching and parenting aren’t so different: both are hard work, but are also heart work. Let’s support one another in promoting the social and emotional growth of the next generation!
(You can learn more about how my school, Thrive, does this work here.)
The opinions expressed in Next Gen Learning in Action are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.