No one has done this particular transition before.
Sure, you've done the back-to-school thing, but each kid and each parent is now a year older, most likely entering a new grade, and largely unaware of what the next year brings. All of that means we parents should take the emotional lead by approaching this time with honest humility and questions, rather than arrogant answers and assumptions. Having a curious attitude about what this year will hold is so much better than jumping to conclusions and ignoring the concerns of your child. What does this look like? Maybe it means actually asking (and then listening to) what your kids are saying about something like school supply needs. Just last night, my daughter and I almost went head to head over this very issue. Thankfully, I was thinking about this article and somehow found a way to pause.
She started begging for a new backpack. Now, her bag from last year looked perfectly fine to me. No rips. No tears. I wanted to tell her that she shouldn't care so much about looks and that a new one was out of the question, but then I had a thought. Why not really talk to her about this? Why not come to a conclusion about the need for a new backpack through cooperative investigation rather than authoritarian presumption? Why not be ScreamFree about it all? Hmmm ... As it turned out, she wasn't at all concerned about the look of her bag, but rather the size. She was worried about how many textbooks 6th graders will need. She was actually asking for something far more valuable than a new accessory. She wanted reassurance about her new schedule, her new workload, her new responsibilities. I almost missed a great opportunity because I assumed that we had done this before and I knew what was best. So, I asked questions and she opened up. And for the record, we both came to the conclusion that last year's book bag will work out just fine.Transitions back to school can be difficult!
Optimism is most effective when it is NOT imposed.
We all want our kids to have a "great year." And believe it or not, that's what they want as well. You might not have picked up on that with all of the lamenting they do toward the end of summer, but it's there. It is our tendency to negate all the fears and complaints our kids have about school starting because we know how important a positive attitude is in determining that "great year". But that's not our job. Hear me clearly: It is absolutely our job as leaders to lead with optimism about the future. We have to come to a place of maturity and faith to believe that the future has plenty of reason for excitement. But we make a critical mistake when we try to impose that optimistic view on everyone else. Doing so makes us come across as needy and nervous. Whenever we say, "Come on, you should be excited! This is going to be a great year!" we are playing cheerleaders trying to convince our frightened or apathetic kids that everything is going to be just swell. Instead, they hear, "Come on, I can't handle you being moody or scared or insecure because that means that I have somehow failed. I NEED you to be excited about this upcoming school year or I'm going to feel like a bad parent!" Simply convince yourself that it is going to be a great year and watch their attitudes follow.
Yes, let's tell our kids that we're excited and we really believe in a positive future. Yes, let's tell them this from a genuine point of mature, individual, faith in that belief. But, let's also remember this: what they feel about this upcoming year is up to them. Give your kids some emotional space to struggle with their fears and worries without trying to either minimize or amplify them, and then sit back and watch them soak up your positivity without even having to try.
It's the little changes that prepare us for the biggest ones.
When a transition is clear and unavoidable, there is no excuse for a lack of preparation. One of the biggest mistakes I see parents make in preparing for the school year is the last-minute summer vacation, with the whole family arriving home the day or two before school starts. This is an automatic recipe for a very difficult first week of school. Back-to-school is a transition that's been on the calendar for months, and we all know that even with the best preparation around bedtime and sleep schedules, there are going to be some exhausted kids those first two weeks or so.
By all means, use the week prior to ease everyone, including yourself, back into a school-friendly routine. Start cutting back on bedtimes 15 minutes each night until it's back to usual. Start waking kids up 15 minutes earlier each day, ushering them into a shower and a change of clothes. You can even work with your kids by going online or calling the school to find out when lunch is scheduled for each kid, and begin getting their bodies ready for that meal schedule. Sure, these are little changes, but as in most areas of life, it's the little changes that prepare us for the bigger ones.
Transitions like going back to school can be difficult, that's for sure. But they can also be incredible growth opportunities. It all depends on how you look at things. If you're willing to become more coachable than correct, more optimistic than overbearing, and more intentional than intense these last few days before school actually starts, you and your child are off to one "great year" no matter what lies ahead.