(4.5 minute read) This summer has been unlike any other. Hopefully though, we’ve all been able to enjoy some sun, swimming, s’mores, and smiles. And hopefully, our children had more time to relax and enjoy life with days that were less structured than past summers.
Now, it’s time to start another school year. With that comes earlier bedtimes, busier schedules, homework, and new experiences. This brings a mix of excitement, stress and anxiety for parents and children, especially this year. Given this year’s significant change in the school landscape, whether children are participating in virtual learning or a hybrid, these feelings will likely be more intense. Change and the unknown is scary and can even bring about conflicting emotions and/or other feelings that may be hard to manage.
Those heading back to the classroom have the added challenge of not having been in a school setting for nearly half a year. Some children found learning from home easier and less complicated. They didn’t have to worry about fitting in or being excluded. While other children mourned the loss of socializing. Regardless of their preference and experience, distance learning resulted in children not having opportunities to develop their social and emotional skills in the way they would have in a school setting.
So, what can we as parents do to make the transition back to school easier and a little less overwhelming?
What can we do to support our children socially and emotionally to ensure they thrive under these challenging circumstances?
Believe it or not, there’s one simple answer…LEAD BY EXAMPLE.
We all tell our children to be patient and kind, and not to complain. But have you looked in the mirror? How often do you have short fuse unnecessarily? Spoken rudely to loved? Complained about how things are being done?
If we expect these things from our children, we should expect the same from ourselves. We can all probably agree that telling children not to do things is easier than following our own advice. Whether we like it or not, children make mental notes every time we contradict ourselves.
Practicing what we preach takes effort. The first and perhaps most challenging step is assessing whether what we are doing and saying matches what we expect and ask of our children. Once we have the answer, we can then spend time choosing the words and actions that reflect our messages.
Our ultimate goals should be to:
instill values and strengthen character
support our children socially and emotionally
Here are 5 ways to lead by example that will support our children’s overall well-being and ensure positive growth.
- Instill optimism. As hard as it may be, especially now, do your best to minimize complaints and criticisms, whether about people, school, work, or life in general. Changes, problems and disappointments are part of life. And if appropriate, try reframing situations to focus on the positive. For example, if school goes from hybrid to all remote, you can say something like, “Now you won’t need to wear your mask all day or worry about keeping proper distance with everyone.” Adapting this outlook prompts children to look for the good and teaches them how to adapt to the curveballs that are thrown!
- Cultivate confidence and self-esteem. If your children are young, they likely see you as beautiful and perfect. And if you have a sassy teen, you probably get the sense that they view you as the devil. Regardless of age, deep down your children view you as capable of pretty much anything. The question is whether you believe it. Believing in yourself sets the tone for how children will likely view themselves. Confidence is contagious. So start focusing on the things you like about yourself and the things you do well. Then point it out to your children. For example, if you are trying to hold a plank, you can say out loud, “Wow, I worked so hard to be able to hold a plank for a minute and after weeks of practicing, I finally did it. I feel so good. I’m glad I didn’t give up!” On top of showcasing your confidence, that one sentence demonstrates goal setting, motivation, commitment and perseverance- to name a view. Fostering positivity, confidence, and success propels everyone forward, the direction we all want be headed.
- Engage in meaningful face-to-face conversations. There’s no way to avoid the fact that children’s primary way of communicating is through screens. But with today’s technology-obsessed generation, encouraging verbal communication is more important than ever. While it might not seem like you need to teach your children the art of conversation – the give and take, it’s a must! The simplest way to do this is to carve out time to speak with your children about your days. Don’t just send some texts or mumble in passing. I mean REALLY talk with them. Share what you did that day, your experiences, your interactions. Hopefully, they will engage. If necessary, you can gently prompt your children to interact by asking a question that invites her into your conversation, such as, “Do you want to know what I did after I dropped you at school?” Or “Do you want to hear what happened to my sister at work today?” After sharing about yourself, turn the table. Ask your children about their day using open-ended questions, ones that require more than a one word response. And be sure to give them your undivided attention. This shows that they are valued and you are interested in hearing what is being said. –> CAUTION: We have all been in those situations (most likely with our own parents) when we are not in the mood to talk. Yet the person doesn’t take any of our cues and continues to ask questions. So if you notice your daughter is not in the mood to talk, do your best to read the situation and react appropriately. There’s always tomorrow for another conversation.
- Express emotions. Use your daily conversations as an opportunity to speak about what you are feeling – the positive and negative. By sharing your own emotions with your children, you give them permission to feel their feelings. And you open the door to being able to teach and speak with them about their thoughts and feelings. Since dialogue is now part of the daily routine, your children don’t have to work up the courage to ask to speak with you about something important (and difficult). It will also be easier since you have together formed a stronger bond and built a safe place to speak. When they open up, the most important thing you can do is listen and validate their feelings. You want them to know that you respect what they are feeling, and understand it may be difficult to manage those emotions. When your children feel seen, heard, and valued, you are giving them the sustenance and strength they need to move forward. But even if your children don’t open up and specifically share their emotions, given you’ll be having regular interactions, it will be easier to notice changes. Then you can ask questions with hopes to get them to share. For more on expressing emotions, check out this blog.
- Maintain healthy, honest, respectful relationships. As parents, I am sure you agree that your children must understand who’s in charge. Yes, you make the rules, and enforce them. But it’s challenging (and sometimes confusing) if you also want to be seen as the cool, laid-back, hip parent. Not only is it hard to find the sweet spot between being a parent and a friend, it can be confusing to your children. In theory, they understand that you are older and wiser. But that’s not necessarily enough. They need to know that you are willing to set reasonable standards for behavior and discipline. Believe it or not, they want to know what the rules are and that someone is going to enforce them, because when this happens, the world makes sense. At the same time, it is never okay to disrespect your children. Respect, in-and-of itself, is a key ingredient in ALL relationships, regardless of age. In fact, respect is the very foundation for developing positive and healthy relationships within families. Respect ties into being open minded, tolerant, attentive, good mannered, and honest. These are the qualities that every parent wants for their children. Every time you politely confront someone with an issue, ask for help, or lend a helping hand, you are showing your children how you would like them to act. This behavior has a ripple effect – one that your children will have on their peers.
Looking for some extra support? Check out our recommended books for children and for parents on a wide variety of topics, from emotions like stress, fear and anxiety to navigating transitions and friendships.