Seven Lessons for the First Day of School – and for Life

How can I help my child survive in a world I have so little control over?

One: Be Yourself

Will I fit in? Will I like my teacher? Will my teacher like me? When you’re feeling stressed about a situation, the best thing to do is “Be yourself.” In the age of social media, we have become obsessed with the image we are presenting and how many “likes” we are getting. The greatest freedom comes from not needing the approval of others, of being your own person. People will respect you more and like you more when you’re not trying to be liked.

Two: Keep on hoping

Every fall, kids buy their new school supplies full of hope that this is going to be the best year ever. They really want this to go well. They are so willing to make it work. Even kids who have not had a great experience of school have this hope. Keep on hoping. Never become cynical. Every year is a new one. Every day is a new one. One day at a time. At the end of a bad day, press the reset button. Go back with a positive attitude.

Three: Accept the things you cannot change

Every parent needs “The Serenity Prayer” and every child should be taught it:

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

You might be able to change out of a bad teacher’s classroom, but you can’t change a bad teacher. You can change small things about your child’s school, but the school system will take generations to change.

Change out of bad classrooms if you can. Change out of bad schools if you can. Participate in the life of your local school, and support organizations working for school reform.

If you can’t do any of these things, then bloom where you are planted.

Four: Practice positive self-talk

Change the loop of negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Teach your child to use positive affirmations. These are simple statements that can change a person’s life because they change the way a person looks at life and at themselves. “I am a good person.” “I am capable.” “I am lovable.” “I am going to have a good day.”

Five: Act. Don’t react

Decide to be your own person and have your own attitude. Don’t live your life in reaction to other people. Don’t behave badly just because other people are behaving badly toward you. If you get a bad teacher, don’t let that person bring you down. You are always in control of your own attitude even though the teacher seems to have all the control. Don’t let someone else’s negativity ruin your day. Put up a force field, a firewall, a shield over your heart. Don’t let toxic stuff in. The only person you can control is yourself.

Six: Don’t let others define you

You are not your grades. You are not your report card. School only works on and measures a small part of you. You are much bigger and better than school will ever know because they only see a small part of you. You have value as a person apart from your performance. You are loved and you are lovable. School doesn’t measure that.

Seven: Resilience comes from being loved

No matter how much we screw up, no matter how inconsistent we are, our kids keep on loving us. Where does this ability come from? It comes from a child’s natural resilience. Kids have an incredible ability to bounce back – especially kids who are loved and supported through hard times. When a child is supported through tough times, they are better able to face the next tough time. Experience teaches them that they can handle it and that they are loved unconditionally.

Life is full of “First days.” In fact, every day is a first day.

 

Difficult child. Interesting adult.

When you’re feeling frustrated about your child’s behaviour, just remember, your difficult child is going to grow up to be an interesting adult.

2a

Wayne Dyer said, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Qualities that are difficult in a child might serve him well as an adult. 

  • Stubborn = strong-willed, sets goals and works toward them
  • Defiant = is confident enough to speak honestly to authority figures
  • Disorganized = is more interested in the big picture, not a details person
  • Doesn’t listen = focuses well on his own projects, is able to ignore distractions
  • Argumentative = intelligent, passionate, excellent verbal skills

“Difficult” is in the eyes of the beholder. A difficult child is not a problem to be solved but a mystery to be understood.

All behaviour is logical. What is the deeper meaning behind the difficult behaviour?

  • I want more freedom and control in my life. This doesn’t mean letting them have everything they want. It means giving them more freedom and control – within boundaries.
  • I feel that no one “gets” me. What does it mean to “get” a child? It means to feel empathy for them. It means to really listen to what they’re saying and take them seriously.
  • I have energy I need to burn off. Get outside. Move. Exercise.
  • I’m bored. I don’t feel challenged. This is especially the case with highly intelligent children.
  • I need more attention from Mom and Dad. Some children need more attention than others – within the same family. If they can’t get it in positive ways, they will get it in negative ways. Give to each according to their needs. You cannot spoil a child with love.

We think of children as difficult when they do not behave in ways we like. We need to provide them with two things: freedom within structure.

The 4 F’s of discipline:

Few: Your list of rules should be short. These are your non-negotiables, your battles worth fighting. Put them up on the fridge door. Review them periodically.

Fair: Talk about these rules as a family. What are the logical reasons behind them? Let your kids participate in this discussion rather than decreeing from above. Decide in advance what the consequences will be – ideally with buy-in from your kids.

Fast: When a rule is violated, follow the “Act, don’t yak!” rule. Simply impose the consequence. No need for long sermons or lectures. Make sure the consequences have a reasonable time limit (for example, one day without the iPad), so that you can start fresh again.

Firm: Listen to the push back then let it go. It’s my job to set boundaries. It’s your job to push back against them. We’re both doing our job.

The daily struggle to meet the needs of a “difficult” child will be just that, a daily struggle. Take one day at a time. At the end of a bad day, rebuild the interpersonal bridge by making nurturing contact with the child. The next day, push the reset button – no grudges or references to the past. Most of all, have a sense of humour. Maybe you don’t even have a difficult child – maybe you’re a “difficult parent.” lol

2c

 

Four Promises to Myself for a New School Year

There are a couple of things I want to do differently this year. Now is the time to decide what they are.

shutterstock_303844640

1.  I will not let homework ruin our family evenings.

Life is too short to let homework ruin my relationship with my kids. If I had to bring home that much work from work, I wouldn’t be happy doing it either. My child is right. They’ve put in 6 or 7 hours at school. Why should they have to do another hour or two?

Show empathy. Don’t take the side of school. Be on your child’s side – literally. Many kids work better with an adult sitting beside them redirecting their focus. That’s OK. They haven’t developed “regulation of attention” for things they find boring. They will. 

In case of emergency, download this tip sheet: Homework Tips for Extreme Non-Compliance

2.  I will use this change of routine to change our family’s routine around screen time.

During the summer, I let a lot of things go. I forgive myself. With the new school year starting I have the chance to re-introduce some limits.

Researchers recommend a maximum of one hour for a single session of game play and a maximum of 2 hours of screen time for every 5 hours of free time. That might boil down to an hour before dinner and an hour after dinner. Homework must be done first. No screens a half hour before bedtime. No screens in bed. Be firm, fair and consistent. Discuss these limits at a family meeting (dinner) before school starts,

Download this template which I’ve posted previously. Video Game Schedule. Edit it to suit your own situation and post it on the fridge door.

3. I will keep the spirit of summer alive.

Why does going back to school mean not having any more fun? Life doesn’t need to be binge and purge. Let’s have some kind of fun every day – however small! We still have our weekends. Every weekend I will do something fun with my kids and something I enjoy myself – however small!

Adults talk about having a healthy work-life balance. Kids need a healthy school-life balance. For children, life means play – and play doesn’t have to just mean screen time. It can also mean getting outdoors. Fall is a great time for hiking or biking local trails. Google “trails in your town.”

4. I will not let school define my child.

I will not let test marks, report cards or teacher comments make me think my child is somehow a failure or I am somehow a failure. My child is not a “student” to me. This is my baby. I love him no matter what. There is no judgement school could pass on him that would make me love him any less. He is perfect. School measures people with marks and “comments.” I only have one way of measuring my child – by how much I love him. 

I work with many kids who have been “labelled.” There is nothing wrong with having a child’s cognitive exceptionality identified, but no label or assessment can sum up a child’s nature.  All children are gifted with a unique nature. Honour the nature of your child.

What Your Child Means When They Say “I Hate You!”

When children become angry and frustrated with us, it usually has to do with issues of power and control.

shutterstock_70837543 (2)

We are always trying to strike a balance between controlling and managing our children on the one hand and giving them the freedom to decide for themselves on the other.

All children are looking for autonomy. They want to be their own boss. This is a good thing. We want to raise children who are self-starting, self-directing and self-regulating. How do we get there? By giving our children freedom of choice and the responsibility that comes with it.

All behaviour is logical. A parent’s job is to try to figure out the logic behind a particular behaviour.

When kids say, “I hate you” it could simply mean they feel a loss of power and control. In this situation all they have left is their “attitude” – which they express through words and actions.

Viktor Frankl, the great Austrian psychologist who survived the concentration camps of Nazi Germany said,

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

This is what kids are doing when they say “I hate you.” They are choosing an attitude that will leave them with some remaining sense of power and control in a situation where they feel they have none. It can be seen as a positive and healthy reaction to the limitations they honestly feel.

The only question parents have to ask is: Are the limitations I am imposing on my child reasonable – or are they arbitrary? Are they for the benefit of the child, or am I just satisfying my own need for power and control?

Barbara Coloroso suggests three questions parents can ask themselves when deciding to say yes or no:

  1. Is it harmful to yourself?
  2. Is it harmful to someone else?
  3. Does it violate a moral code?

“I hate you.” Big words for big feelings.

These words are not to be taken as an overall assessment of your relationship. They are the child’s way of dealing with strong feelings. The wise adult needs to understand what’s behind these words, not punish them, fear them or feel guilty about them. Your child doesn’t hate you. Your child loves you and feels safe enough to tell you what they really feel.

What is the appropriate response?

“I can see you’re angry. I understand your frustration, but this is a decision I have to make.”

When the child has a meltdown on the kitchen floor or runs into their room and slams the door, we just have to wait until the storm passes. Let the child have their feelings. There is nothing to be cured, stopped, solved or punished. It’s messy for a while, but it will pass. Deep down the child knows you care.

But the most important fundamental question remains: Are your limitations fair and reasonable or are they an arbitrary exercise of your own power and need for control? Could you just as well have said yes or arrived at some kind of compromise? Freedom teaches responsibility. Excessive control teaches learned helplessness and passivity.