This one is for the parents.
Back-to-School is an emotional time. Parents who are sending their children to kindergarten may feel nervous to send their little-ones into a big school. Parents of high-schoolers are watching their teens transition from bus-riders or car-riders to car-drivers who no longer need to be picked up. Listening to the parents around me, I know most of you are relieved to eliminate expensive summer camps and get your grocery-eating-teenagers out of the house. I get it: Back to school is an emotional time.
When I used to work as a dean of students, I supported 2nd graders who were experiencing full-blown anxiety attacks and 5th graders with suicidal ideation. In my opinion, Generation Z (those born between 1995-2015) is the most stressed generation of children I have encountered. I believe that the biggest health issue facing this generation is mental health. Here is where I come in…
I know you got their book bags, pencils, pens and paper. I am sure you went to open-house to meet their teachers. You made sure they went to bed at a decent hour. You bought them new clothes. I hope to offer you a little something to help you best support your student in becoming emotionally prepared to be successful in the school year. Here are 4 important tips that can make all the difference:
Assume the best of everyone who is educating your child.
Part of sending your child to school involves trusting that someone else is going to love your child enough to spark their ability to read, add, think, and question. Speak highly of everyone who is supporting your child in their learning journey. Tell them that people are for them and not against them. Many children began the school year feeling unsafe because their parents project their fears on their children. As a Black child, I often heard, “You know they (I assumed White people) are looking for you to fail. Don’t go in that school and show them that you are who they think you are.” Before I even met my teachers, I received messages that many of them expected less of me and would not support me. It greatly affected my ability to ask for help, feel comfortable with failing, and feel safe in my predominantly-White school. A more helpful message might have been, “Adrianne, you are brilliant! Show them who you are!” As a parent, you are setting the first emotional tone for how your child feels in school. If you tell them that their teachers love them, they will assume that they are being loved, even when they are being corrected. If you tell them that school is a safe space, they will assume safety. If anything looks or feels different, it will be surprising, not expected. Send your baby into the school year with affirmative words that provide emotional and mental safety. “Trust is the best medium to grow success. It creates an environment in which people feel free to be authentic, passionate, committed and willing to share all they have to offer.”
Teach your child the truth about competition.
Most high achieving students I speak to are obsessed with grades, class rankings and test scores. They discuss these things with more passion and interest than they do topics that they are learning in school. It is really unfortunate. I realize that students are concerned with attending the college of their dreams, attaining scholarships, and getting the best senior-photo possible. However, none of this matters if your child is not mentally and emotionally healthy…and unfortunately, the majority of these students are not. Queen Iyanla Vanzant said, “Comparing yourself to others is an act of violence against your authentic self. The God in you has no comparison. The same is true of others.” Emphasize to your student they are in school to learn how to become their best and most authentic selves. This has nothing to do with grades or class rankings. At the end of the day, how do they feel about themselves? Instead of focusing on their grades genuinely ask your child, “Did you really give your best?” “Are you satisfied with your performance?” “What would you like to do differently?” Help your child gain the self-reflection skills that they will need to self-assess their performance. This will allow them to develop healthy self-esteem and self-worth…they are going to need that much more than an “A” in Biology…trust me.
Help your child navigate their emotional world.
All your child’s feelings matter. Every single one of them. As a parent, partner with your child as they navigate their emotional world. Four-year-olds break down when their toys break because those toys are their most important worldly possessions. Why wouldn’t they meltdown? Saying things like, “It’s only a toy” creates emotional confusion and isolation. Your child will not feel supported and instead will feel ashamed of their response, confused by their emotional response to the toy, and unsafe in showing their emotions. Responding by saying, “I totally understand why you are crying. When something you love is taken away, it hurts really bad,” offers emotional support and validation. It teaches them that their feelings matter and their feelings are right. This same principle applies when your 13-year-old is experiencing heartbreak, your 16-year-old is navigating rejection, or your 18-year-old is depressed. Their feelings matter and they are real and right. When a 13-year-old is heartbroken because her boyfriend broke up with her, she is really experiencing heartbreak…in 13-years of experience, this is all she understands it to be. Saying, “Girl, you are 13! You are not even in love” teaches her that she cannot trust her own feelings. This is not a helpful message because as a woman, she is going to need to be able to trust what she feels…and if she has to question it too much, she might stay somewhere too long. Teach your child to recognize, accept, and share their feelings. “A mother’s job is to teach her children not to need her anymore. The hardest part is accepting success.” Teach your children to care for themselves emotionally so that they can become self-supporting and self-reliant. Remember, WE HEAL OURSELVES. Empower them to trust that they can trust their own knowing.
Acknowledge that school is as emotionally stressful as work.
Many parents tell their children, “All you have to do is go to school,” as if going to school is easy. Being a kid is hard. You are constantly at the effect of other people’s decisions…you are always in the backseat going for someone else’s ride. You can’t even say, “Mom and Dad turn left cause my life is leading me in this direction” because they won’t listen. This is their ride. Adults move cities, get divorces, change their kids schools, decide the order of their homes, pick what’s for dinner with little or no influence from the children. These young folks don’t decide where they live, what they eat, who their teacher is, or what they are going to have to learn. That shit sucks! At least you get to decide what you are going to do everyday! Just like you woke up early to go to work, they woke up early to go to school and stay awake in Mr. Barnes class and Mr. Barnes is BORING! At least when you are bored at work, you can get up and go get coffee. They can’t even get up without permission (like seriously, they have to ask someone else to go pee?!), can’t drink in class unless they have permission, and can’t even look at their cell phones (and you know texting your friend was the only thing that helped you make it through that long team meeting). Acknowledge that going to school is not easy. Just like the office politics affect how you feel when you get home, school-drama is just as real…and kids have less spaces to get their needs met. It took me about six months to realize why Veronica kept breaking the dress code. She kept wearing crop-tops to school because it was the only place people were going to see her in her outfit. You don’t wear crop-tops to work because you can wear them to the club, the mall, or anywhere else you please. No need to wear it to work so someone can see your belly ring! Kids have it hard. Imagine trying to dodge the hall-monitor because your shirt is one-inch to short, walking by a group of kids who don’t like you, and realizing that you forgot something in your locker and you can’t go back to get it without being written up (and if you run down the hall to try to make it you’ll get in trouble for that too). It’s not an easy world. Just be sensitive to that. Like seriously, just let him go to his room…just like you need to.
Parents remember, none of your child’s experience is about you. You are given 18-years to support an individual being in the earliest part of their life journey. You will witness all types of moments: first steps, first words, break-ups, championship games won, championship games lost, girl-drama, boy-drama, secrets, exclusion, success, early-bloomers, late-bloomers, A’s, D’s, first-times, fender-binders, and summer jobs. It’s a beautiful experience, really. Just remember that it is not your experience, it is theirs. Your children are on earth to allow you to experience parenting. They are here to show you how you are as a mother or father. Are you patient? Kind? Safe? Forgiving? Supportive? Loving?
Your children are only in your life to show you how you respond to someone else’s developmental process. Do you like the parent that you are? How can you be more loving toward your child, and yourself?
If you need guidance in supporting your baby through their journey, please allow B. Well to support you in being the best parent possible. You got this!
Happy First Day of School!
Dr. Adrianne R. Pinkney
Integrative Wellness & Life Coach