As a mother of four children, three of whom are school-aged, I can empathize with the roller coaster of emotions that caregivers and educators are feeling at this time of year. Not only are we faced with the whirlwind that is back-to-school season, but we are still in the peak of a pandemic, which continues to create quite a bit of anxiety in society as a whole. I am torn–on one hand, I am overjoyed that our kids are returning to school in person with their peers after 18 months of distance learning. On the other hand, however, I am terrified for several reasons. I am sure that we are all facing this to some degree. Will our children feel safe? Will our children have the tools that they need to re-engage with their peers? Will learners be able to focus in a classroom while thinking about protocols and risks? Well, we can only control what we can control, so here I will discuss how my family is processing all of these variables in the hope you will find some reprieve in your own journey.
Our kids need structure and routine in their lives, as most kids do. As parents, we are able to perform at our best when we follow a schedule ourselves. To achieve this level of stability, we have created a routine in our family that helps our children feel secure. They know what to expect and when to expect it so they have one less thing to worry about. The timing of their daily activities does not cause them stress or angst. In fact, it creates the direct opposite. Our schedule remains relatively the same every day. From the time that they wake up to the space where they complete their homework, each of our kiddos can breathe a little easier throughout the day. We have learned to create a visual schedule at the start of the school year and a checklist of sorts for their morning/night routine so that they also feel a sense of independence each day. This boost of confidence launches each of our children into feelings of success so that they can approach the day with a layer of bravado and confidence.
As challenging as it is, the importance of modeling positivity, growth mindsets and finding joy are, without a doubt, at the top of our priority list as parents. Children need to feel validated when they experience emotions, no doubt, and they need to see people who they trust counteract those big feelings with optimism. One day, their internal voice will replay the scene or conversation that you had with them when they felt this same way in the past. “What did Mama do when she felt disappointed?” “Mama always says that I am strong enough to handle this.” Whatever the situation, modeling your emotions and sparking a conversation during an organic moment (at the dinner table, while playing a family game, driving in the car, etc.) helps children feel like they are not alone and that what they are facing is expected, thus, relieving any unnecessary stress from the adversity itself (it is stressful enough, right?).
Oof, this one is probably the most difficult of them all. Striking a level of balance between work and play, serious and lighthearted, excitement and calmness take quite a bit of reflection and time. My partner and I have had many conversations about this element of our family (and personal) life. We want our children to grow up with appropriate expectations of themselves, to live life to the fullest, and to work towards their goals wholeheartedly. As caregivers and educators, we are the first ones to let go of our self-care because the nature of our roles in life are selfless. Without balance in our own lives, it is nearly impossible to establish balance in our children’s lives. Even if you only have ten minutes a day to yourself, you are then better equipped to handle challenges as they come your way and you are better able to model balance and positivity now when our children need it the most.
Yes, our children deserve an education and yes, our children need socialization. In order for them to maximize the time that they have in the classroom this year, they also deserve and need structure, tools, validation, and balance. This is your calling, your chance to reframe this back-to-school season as an opportunity to set your learners on the path to victory by providing these layers of support at home and beyond.