One of the many hats I wear – outside of being a mom of three of the best kiddos in the world – is that I am a licensed child and adolescent therapist and a registered play therapist™. The way I describe my job is: “I get to help shape the future by holding space for our future leaders while using the universal language of play!” This time of the year is filled with calls to my office about preparing for the new school year, so to save you a copay and tons of paperwork here are my top tips to make this school year a success for you and your kiddos.
- Be Intentional: I fully admit that as a mom, I go into each school year with the goal of making every event and class party, perfect lunches, and being on time. By week three we’ve usually failed. Being intentional means setting and sticking to realistic expectations that work for you are. I will never be the perfect Instagram-worthy lunch Mom, but I will always provide you with the things to keep you fueled during the day. We will take each day one by one with the intention of doing our very best, and our best is always good enough.
- Have Fun: There is enough stress in the world that school doesn’t need to be one of those factors. Yes, grades are important – but developing social skills and mastering life skills that can only be found on the playground are important too. Research has found that children who learn in an environment filled with hands-on interaction and play actually fare better than children in the opposite environment. Make room for Monday morning dance parties, and if homework is stressing you out, go for a nature walk or a quick dip in the pool for a brain reset. If we think back, most of our fondest memories growing up about school usually involve exploring with our friends or a creative project we completed.
- Be Connected: One of my favorite back-to-school activities used to be “Meet the Teacher” – we would call it “old home week.” Everyone would be chatting and talking about their summers and reconnecting. As my children have gotten older, that looks different – but establishing connections is still vital. I’ve been a room Mom, a committee chair, a PTA Mom… and even a “don’t even ask me to volunteer, I’m just here to drop off” Mom. In all those roles, I’ve learned that it’s still important to stay connected. There will be bumps in the road this school year and it’s important to make sure that we have a support team. If you are an introvert like me, establishing that support team may feel overwhelming – but you got this. My first connection when my oldest started school was the after school program leader (partially because I was always late – but that’s another story). She was my eyes and ears and would let me know if something was off for my kiddo, and she was just as invested as me in ensuring that he had a good day. Making those connections, and knowing there were people with my child who cared when I couldn’t be eased some of my worries.
- Run Your Own Race: School has become more competitive over the years, and we often get caught in the comparison trap. As the person who makes a living spending time with your child, I have to tell you a secret: they don’t care. Some of the most important aspects of healthy development for a child are feeling connected to those they care about and feeling like they count. When we start talking about what others are doing or what we think our child “should” be doing based on what we see others doing, we are unintentionally sending the message that what they have done doesn’t count. I have three children, and each is unique and talented in their own way. Allowing them to run their own race and avoiding comparison has helped create three very unique students who excel in the ways that celebrate who they are.
- Finally, Raise Butterflies: Any time I have the opportunity to speak with a group of parents, I tell my version of the story of “The Boy and The Butterfly.” The short version is that if we do everything for kiddos and intervene at every minor obstacle, they will never develop the strength to master obstacles on their own. Our children are amazing and have skills beyond our belief; trust them when they say they can handle it. Our job is to intervene when we know it is beyond their ability to master on their own and to focus on maintaining a loving, supportive relationship with them. Hire the tutor when homework is getting contentious or tap a friend to start a homework bunch. If stress and anxiety are growing, reach out to a professional like me so they have a safe neutral space to work through the feelings. If your child is struggling socially, ask them what activities they are interested in and celebrate those, trust me on this (signed: the Mom that spent seven seasons of flag football with the kid who read a book on the sidelines the whole time – but after one summer theater camp found their passion). Allow for exploration and growth as your children start to develop their own sense of identity.
The school year is 180 days, which means we have 180 chances to make each day the best day ever. Take each day as a new opportunity to learn and grow with your child and check in with them, remain focused on “what went right,” and you’ll be headed to an amazing school year.