Over the past week, kids have gone back to school. If you lucked out and have a child with an easy-going temperament, this transition may have barely caused a ripple in the pool of your life. If you have a- shall we say- more sensitive child, this transition back to school may cause some angst for both your child and for yourself.
Our seven year old son, Jack, falls into the latter category. He just started second grade. While Jack is exceptionally bright, and gets stellar grades, he tends to be emotionally immature, and gets amped up over transitions big and small. Sometimes just asking him to turn off the TV or come to supper can trigger a meltdown. So, we knew going back to school after a long, lazy summer would not be a picnic.
About a year an a half ago, I wrote a post reflecting on Jack’s year in kindergarten. It was a strongly worded rant about how difficult it was to watch my small son grapple with the big world of education. Although he had been in daycare since he was an infant, and he attended a stellar preschool, going to a full-day-every-day-academic-program was grueling.
Jack would return home at the end of the day like a ticking time bomb. He was exhausted and agitated at the same time. We struggled to get him to focus on homework after he had already sat still for so many hours in school. He would hold himself together emotionally and behaviorally all day at school, and then let lose a barrage of anger and anxiety once he got home.
My post about Jack’s experience in kindergarten has been one of the most read, shared, and commented-on posts here at Momaste. I’ve heard from many moms who shared a similar and heart-wrenching experience as mine and Jack’s.
I still believe our education system is, in many ways, flawed. You will never convince me that giving five and six year olds homework, or keeping them still for six hours at a time is developmentally appropriate. I believe there should be way more opportunities for physical activities during the school day, and that children should be offered other methods of learning through play and exploration.
Despite this, I also believe teachers do their best working in the constraints of this system. For the most part, teachers are amazing, helping friends who want our children to succeed. They work way harder than I would ever want to, know way more about academically educating my child then I do, and do a much better job than I could ever dream of. This is one reason why I continue to send my child to school, and have faith in our system, however flawed it may be.
It is really hard to keep perspective on things when our children are involved. With the benefit of a year and a half of hindsight, I would like to take a moment to write couple of things.
First off, it is all going to be okay. Your child will adjust. Please take heart.
It is hard to watch our little people struggle with transitions, but have faith in your child’s ability to conquer challenges. Jack is almost always capable of way more than I give him credit for. Trying times pale in comparison to watching a child discover inherent joy in reading or science.
Second, I’ve learned that kindergarten is a year of major adjustments. So is first grade. And second. Every year represents new and different developmental milestones for your child. While it feels like our hearts are shredded when our kids come home dragging their back packs behind them, flattened by fatigue, frustrated by social challenges, or demoralized by a bad grade, we can not rob them of these precious learning opportunities.
It goes against everything in our nature to see our babies uncomfortable, but we need to accept we can not make every second of life comfortable for them.
This is not to say we should ignore it if they are truly struggling or having a hard time. Making your maternal presence known as your child’s advocate is important. Every child has special needs and needs to have a pleasant and rational spokesperson speak up for them while they learn to do so for themselves. Most teachers and school administrators will be open and sensitive to your thoughts and concerns.
Finding ways to ease your parental anxiety about school can also help decrease your child’s difficulties going to school. Volunteering to chaperone a field trip, read to the class, bring in a special snack, or help out with the school dance are great ways to get involved and feel more comfortable in the school where your child spends so much time. It can also be fun to see your child interact with their peers and teachers in this environment which is so often another world to us as parents.
Finding positive outlets for your child is important. We put Jack in karate, where he has flourished. It is great to have a place for him that is not only socially safe, but where he also develops confidence and self esteem. Additionally, it is a way for him to work out some of his frustration and energy at the end of the day.
While I believe karate has been beneficial for Jack, I also make sure his schedule is balanced with plenty of “down time” on the weekends. The schedule really depends on the child. Some kids do much better with every second of their day scheduled and structured, however for other kids (like my son), having unstructured time for free play and relaxation is very important.
Finally, take care of your mother heart. It is helpful to talk with other moms and friends who may be going through similar things with their own children and can offer sympathy and support. In my experience, knowing we are not alone is sometimes the most valuable thing for a mom.
I wish you and your child love, and light, and luck during this trying time. Just keep telling yourself it will all be okay, because it will be. Your child will surprise and delight you over and over again as you watch them take on the world with their own unique charm, wit, and intellect.