Reading, Writing & Resilience
For some, heading back to school is a time of stress. Some children have a difficult time separating from their caregivers when they go to school, other children seem overly influenced by their peer group, and others struggle with perfectionism and anxiety. With so much time spent at school, how can parents best support their children (and their teachers) to become resilient learners?
Normalize and support the discomfort of growth and learning
In order to grow and learn, we have to be stretched a little outside of what’s familiar and our learning has to be active learning not just simply information recall — and that can bring some discomfort. Quality learning requires what brain scientists call “desirable difficulty.” The more active the learning process is, the better your comprehension and recall. The same way you feel a muscle “burn” when it’s being strengthened, the brain needs to feel some discomfort when it’s learning. Parents can help children to embrace the discomfort of learning by normalizing these emotions and conveying that you believe they will get there eventually and that you are there to help.
Use the home environment to support children to increase resilience and adaptability
There are many things that won’t go your child’s way at school. We can help our children learn to manage their frustrations when they are up against the inevitable futilities of school by helping support them to work through the things they cannot change at home. Use opportunities when they cannot have what they want at home by allowing them space to be upset (sometimes even with tears) and then helping them find words to express their frustrations. Do this when they talk to you about challenges at school as well — don’t try to fix things for them.
“Fill up their bucket” at home
Weekdays can be hectic. With only so many hours in the day and so many demands, it’s easy to get swept up in managing our to-do list. The problem is that if we aren’t intentional about finding time to connect with our children and just “be with” them, they will go to school and try to get these relational needs met. If we can fill up our children’s bucket at home, they will be better able to focus, won’t seek unhealthy connections to their peers, and will be less vulnerable to rejection and wounding from their peers.
Set and maintain healthy habits around technology
The use of technology — where, when, what and how much — is a controversial topic. However, technology, including social media, is not going anywhere, and so technological literacy — including healthy habits around its use — is an essential skill that needs to be taught. Technology is being used in your child’s classroom. Find out from your child’s teacher or school how technology is being used and the rules around its use so you can help support these limits. Knowing more about technology use at school will also help inform the limits you have at home. For example, the World Health Organization recommends less than one hour a day of screen time for children under four, so if your child’s classroom is already watching shows as part of their learning at school you will need to adjust accordingly at home.
Treat school as your child’s job and support them to learn how to navigate good work-life balance
When planning your family’s schedule, consider school for your kids as you would your job. Most people wouldn’t take a vacation during their busy season at work, and they try to schedule any appointments they have outside of work hours, so whenever possible, avoid scheduling vacations and appointments for your children during school time.
When planning your children’s schedule after school consider how to support a good school-life balance for your children. Even when teachers work hard to make sure learning is fun and engaging, school is still work for kids. Kids need to have time after school for free, unstructured play, as well as rest, in order to balance their day and have space to integrate new learning. When scheduling extracurricular activities ensure that there is still ample time for play and rest and that the timing of activities allows for a schedule that best supports getting your child to school well-rested, fed and ready to learn! For example, if your child is tired and ready for bed by 7pm, consider saving those 6pm swim lessons for weekend mornings instead.
Be the leader in your child’s “team”
All of the adults that provide care to your child are a part of your team — they bring valuable skills, knowledge and perspective. But your relationship with your child — your connection to your child, your intimate knowledge of your child’s needs, and your motivation to care for your child — is powerfully unique. As the leader of your child’s team you need to be at the top of the attachment hierarchy with all adults below. It’s from this place that you can cultivate healthy relationships with all other caring adults in your child’s life. But you have to be intentional in cultivating your child’s relationship with these caring adults.
Arrange for an introduction meeting with the teacher (if possible), speak positively about the teacher, orient them to the school culture and rules, and convey confidence and trust in your child’s teacher to meet their needs. Depending on the age and needs of the child, you could use tools such as social stories or it could just be a conversation with your child.
Offer support and resources to your child’s teacher to support them in meeting your child’s needs (e.g., a special greeting ritual, a special picture from home). Try to be proactive in communicating any concerns to your child’s teacher before problems arise so you can work together as a team to address these concerns. It’s important to remember that parents and teachers see the child in different environments and can both benefit from one another’s perspectives. If problems arise, communicate with the teacher, but keep school problems at school and home problems at home. For example, don’t have consequences at home for something that happened at school.
This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of The Holistic Parent.