Back to School Tip of the Day #4
Make it personal. This may be the best advice that you receive in this series because today’s ideas came straight from my kids, and they are smarter than I am! I asked my guys what parents can do to help their kids enjoy a successful year. Their answers gave me a “lightbulb moment” – and made me wonder why we adults forget that the strategies that work for us can translate to our kids, too.
Before we dive into the tip of the day, ask yourself this: What is it that allows some people to successfully complete a challenge when others refuse to try or quit before meeting their goals? We like to think that successful people have just had it easy, and in some cases that’s true, but most successful people have overcome significant obstacles to get to the top. They have faced problems. They have experienced failure. They have felt sad and angry and hopeless at times. They have wanted to raise the white flag somewhere along the way, but they didn’t – because they developed resilience. They learned strategies to cope when the goin’ got rough. I don’t know about you, but I want my kids to learn to push through their challenges when they really feel like throwing in the towel, and this requires them to develop a healthy sense of self.
So what will help a child persevere when a school day feels stressful? My oldest son shared that when he is having a bad day, his stress decreases when he pulls something that makes him happy out of his backpack. For example, his math worksheet doesn’t seem quite as painful when he puts it into his Jurassic World folder because that folder reminds him of a fun family memory when we went to that movie on opening night. It warms my heart to know that something as simple as a $1 folder from Target is enough to soothe his nerves when he is threatening to become the next elementary school dropout.
When I saw these Jurassic World folders, I knew that my son would love them, but I had no idea that there was a reason beyond the fact that dinosaurs are cool. It never occurred to me that having something that specifically applied to his interests, something personal, would actually help his self-esteem, but it makes sense. On those days when he feels frustrated or inadequate at school, that folder reminds him that he is smart (because he DOES know a lot about dinosaurs), that he has a family that loves him (because he connects the image to a memory), and that he is more than just a kid who is struggling to conquer a difficult math concept. That simple folder is a triple threat to a bad day!
Maybe this is why he often keeps a few drawings in his folders, too. His vocabulary words may be difficult this week, but his artwork reminds him that he is a talented artist, and that gives him a little boost of confidence just when he needs it. How will my son’s artistic talent help him to earn higher grades in his other classes? It won’t, at least not directly. But his drawings allow him to say, in his head, “I am talented. I can do things. Look at what I can accomplish when I put my mind to it.” Adults create similar reminders in their own homes and workspaces. Why do you think so many diplomas and race bibs and hunting trophies are hanging on walls?
So how can you remind your kids of their uniqueness, their talents, and their accomplishments when you cannot stand beside their desks with pompoms during the school day? The solution is to find ways to stay connected and personalize your child’s experience as much as possible. Sometimes, it’s as simple as buying a folder with dinosaurs on it. Sometimes, you need to be creative. Maybe her math notebook has to be plain and red, but you could tape a meaningful photograph on the inside cover for a little inconspicuous pick-me-up. Do you have photographs on your desk at work? My office is full of pictures because they brighten my day and remind me that I matter outside of my work responsibilities. They also reveal that I have a loving support system despite my mistakes and that I have something to look forward to at the end of the day – snuggling up with my husband and kids. Maybe sending a few photos to school with our kids would provide a similar shot of sunshine!
Here are some other ideas! Choose one to give your child a built-in boost on a gloomy day:
- Write your child an encouraging letter at the beginning of the school year. Give him the note and a lucky charm when school starts, and encourage him to tuck them into a secret backpack compartment. Just knowing that they are always there can be reassuring.
- If your child has to wrap textbooks, use white butcher paper or freezer paper. Let your child decorate the covers however she wants. She can use stickers, markers, photos, or magazine clippings, ask classmates to sign it, or create a collage of her favorite things to fight that stressful feeling.
- Buy a mini-notebook and fill it with encouraging thoughts at the beginning of the school year if you won’t remember to send notes on a regular basis throughout the year. Ask aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, and grandparents to fill pages, too. Read through it together and then stick it in a special place in your child’s backpack. Revisit it at the start of every quarter.
- Stick a post-it note with an encouraging thought on the front door every morning for your child to read and/or take. A little chalkboard by the door is another option. Texting may work well with older kids, if you are able to text outside of class times.
- Buy the miniature version of your child’s favorite candy. Stick one in his jacket pocket every once in a while for a little surprise from Mom and Dad.
- Send encouraging notes daily or randomly in her lunchbox. Watch for a future post full of specific ideas!
- Within reason, let your child choose the first-day outfit or the lunchbox or the backpack that you would never choose. Let her be an individual. This says, “I like you just the way you are.”
- Buy an extra folder for your child’s backpack. Label it something like “HAPPY” or “PRIDE.” Help your child choose a few items to put into the folder at the beginning of the year, including photographs or other things that reflect his interests. Throughout the year, suggest that he add items to the folder, like a special note that his teacher gave him or a test that he aced because he studied really hard. When your child has had a bad day, remind him to look through his folder for a mental boost.
Education in our country is becoming more and more standardized and less and less personalized, which would make sense if students were standards instead of persons. Kids need to be reminded that they are valued as individuals, that they are multi-faceted human beings with both strengths and weaknesses, and that they have overcome obstacles in the past and can do so again. Whenever possible, find ways to make it personal!
Tomorrow we will talk about the importance of keeping your cool.
Join us for Tip #5!