It’s the most wonderful time of the yeeeeeear! Welcome to Back-to-School season. Regardless of which day you start the 2022-2023 school year, any parent who’s been here can attest – it’s a time of change, new horizons, and oftentimes…worry.
Backing Them vs. Backing Off
As the grown-ups in this season of life, it can be tricky to figure out the line between providing support for our children and over-doing for them…a fine line between making sure they have everything they need and letting them be responsible for themselves.
By the way, this balance between hand-holding and letting go shows up whether your kid is venturing into kindergarten, their senior year, or beyond. The beginning of a new chapter always invites us as parents to let our kids level up while we loosen up. Kids need to experience being capable at every stage of growing up, and the adults need to figure out how to train and give them responsibility in a way that’s appropriate for the age and stage they are in.
We miss a lot of opportunities to do this when the school year starts. That sports physical isn’t going to schedule itself…the lunchbox needs to be remembered…the alarm can’t be over-snoozed. We can easily fall into the trap of fretting or over-doing in order to ensure smooth sailing.
Wouldn’t it be nice if there was just ONE thing to focus on amongst all the supply lists, QR codes, and schedules?
Well, here’s one thing your kid needs more than any supply on the list or pep talk or club sign-up: Encouragement.
Encouragement is Essential
Our primary job as parents is to train our kids with life skills and to hold the belief that they can and will rise to the inherent challenges in life. Encouragement is as important to nourishing our child as the breakfast they have each day. Kids thrive when they know that we think they can.
Two things that are inherently discouraging to our kids:
1. Grown-ups fretting about a new aspect of school or a new responsibility that shows up
2. Grown-ups swooping in to set it up or fix it for our kids
These common pitfalls show up in many ways. Here are some just to name a few:
- Tying the shoes of a child who has already learned how
- Driving a child who’s afraid to take the bus
- Waking up a child who’s capable of using an alarm clock
- Managing a high schooler’s sports schedule and equipment
Listen, we ALL do these things from time to time – it’s ok! Our hearts are in the right place. But when we fall into these habits, it sends the unintended message that we don’t think they can handle it, which is ultimately discouraging for them.
The antidote is to focus on the fourth of The 4Cs*: Courage.
How to Build the C of Courage
Start with the idea that whatever the new challenge is, it’s showing up because your kid is ready for it.
They can be resilient and courageous in the face of learning new skills, trying new things, getting stuck and finding their way out of being stuck, and taking on more responsibility than they have had before.
Some tips for addressing the various aspects of school life:
- Listen and acknowledge any feelings that come along with a challenge or problem to solve. Name the feeling and normalize it.
- Before acting, take a moment to pause and intentionally choose how to proceed. Ask yourself: What’s appropriate at this age? Has this kid received the training to handle this situation? What gives them a little bit of weight on their shoulders and a fun challenge, while feeling my support?
- Use encouraging words: can, believe, strong, capable, brave, problem-solver, etc. Notice what’s working: the strengths they are displaying and progress being made.
- Point them to the strengths they’ve shown in the past: Where have you seen a challenge like this before? I have confidence you can handle this, and if you want any advice, I’m here.
- If the moment calls for it, be quiet and step to the side. Say to yourself: They’ve got this. I’m right here.
Remember, your attitude toward the new school year is ten times more powerful than any one action you take. Adopt a posture of confidence that your kid has everything they need already inside of them.
*A Reference Note on The 4 Crucial Cs
Alfred Adler identified the four core needs: belong, improve, significance, encouragement. Ansbacher, H. L., & Ansbacher, R. R. 1956. The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler, Basic Books. New York.
**Betty Lou Bettner and Amy Lew translated Adler’s core needs into the Crucial Cs: Connect, Capable, Count, Courage. Bettner, B.L. & Lew, A. 1989. Raising Kids Who Can. Connexions Press. MA.