As we help our sons and daughters get ready to return to school, let’s reflect on our own readiness to promote our kids’ best emotional development during the school year. Consider these dimensions:
Resist the urge to become the homework police. Let them take responsibility for homework; let them approach it in their own way. Assignments might not get done as well as we’d like, but limiting ourselves to only a simple reminder allows children to build a sense of personal agency. Beyond that rests between them and their teachers (see June 2014).
Neuroscience has revealed the centrality of adequate sleep in consolidating the day’s learning — athletic and academic — especially the night before a performance or important test (see Sept/Oct 2014). And be alert to the risks of bright screens before bedtime (see June 2018).
It builds each time kids encounter and survive moments of ordinary childhood adversity. Rarely rescue by delivering their lunch or the schoolwork they left behind that morning; they’ll survive. And rarely fight their battles for them with classmates or teachers — just offer empathy and a strong vote of confidence that they will find ways to work things out (see November 2011).
It develops in part when they do for themselves all that they’re capable of doing, rather than depending on us to find their sweater, solve their math problems or tidy up after their snack. Insist they get themselves out of bed on school mornings, dress and gather their belongings, and leave the house on time (or face the school’s consequences if they show up late).
Feeling authentically worthy develops through being loved and validated for qualities of good character and simply for being a valued part of our lives, not for earning certain grades or demonstrating athletic prowess. Show delight just to greet the kids at the end of the school day, without racing to ask, How was the test? (See The New Self-Esteem).
Help them understand that they aren’t the center of the universe, that their individual wants and needs (like homework, practice or a friend’s slumber party) cannot always trump the needs of others (like family dinner time, a sibling’s piano recital or grandma’s birthday party). Our kids do well to learn that they’re no better or no less than any of their classmates…and that respectful behavior toward their teachers must be unwavering.