By Dr. Brandi Eijsermans
With summer holiday behind us, parents and children alike are adjusting to the newness of their school year routines. As an international, psychologist, educator and mother people ask me what positive psychology approaches they can take to guide connection, growth and resilience for the whole family when starting a new school year. Here are a few science-backed tips to help you and your child find your new rhythm:
UNDERschedule and Nurture Imagination
Help your kids manage their commitments with mindfully structured experiences. By not overextending yourself or your kids you are giving them a wealth of benefits. Consider one extracurricular at a time or seasonal approach. For each family and child this will look different but take time to evaluate what appeals to you and what intrigues your child. Listen to your child’s expressed ideals to embrace when planning their schedule, for example making space for time in nature and time to build creativity with intentional boredom. Boredom is known to promote creative and divergent thinking by letting the mind tap into a default mode. In our full schedules we can overlook the benefits that pockets of slow can create for our health and minds. Spot stress signs early and engage. Are you feeling too busy? Is your child overly tired or irritable? Do they fight going to practice or joyful at cancellations? Do you still have time for a family meal? Eating as a family is a great way to teach children about nutrition, routine, and ritual. Family meals are a benefit of slow parenting that provide similar benefits to extracurricular activities. Try not to get caught up in the thoughts of ‘’I should’’ or ‘’I must’’ do X,Y, or Z activity. Another consideration is how much time your child has for unstructured free play. Free play is the most important non-academic activity in a child’s life. If their structured activities are eliminating their time to play (not including screens), that’s an issue. If your child has overcommitted and is becoming overwhelmed recognize it and guide them in how to communicate their need to better schedule their time with their needs and values in mind. This is a great practice for life and it takes practice to get good at it.
Stories Enrich Meaning
We make sense of who we are through our stories. Integrating experiences in story and word in school-aged children is a key part of their developing psyche. Many changes can happen over the summer, particularly in the area of friendships. Whether at dinner time or another special time of the day allow your child to weave together the meaning they find in their experiences over the summer, social changes, and personal changes. Many people set goals as part of New Year but the school year is a great time to articulate these goals. For children, this is more likely to come out as their wishes or hope for this grade. International students, whether in public or private school, are integrating an identity that has more fluidity due to their many cultural experiences and influences. If you traveled over the summer, back “home” or to another locale, this may mean there is a need to process what it was like for them in these different cultural contexts. Listen for expressed concerns but don’t feel like you have to fix anything. Depending on your child’s age you can see how they envision their story going forward. As the school year proceeds, continue to encourage them to also enrich their learning by weaving their subject knowledge into their understanding of themselves and the world around them.
Model Resilience, Experience over Evaluation
Promote resilience and a growth mindset by supporting your child’s intrinsic motivations for learning. From listening exercise above identify what is your child’s specific drive at this moment. Take it in developmental context. Consciously express your observations toward the process of learning and not the end project. This supports an appreciation of their innate worthiness. Welcome challenges and setbacks as they come up by through modeling. Children are amazing social learners so show them that resilience comes from recognizing when their efforts didn’t work and using failure as a learning moment. Children who master this skill and develop comfort with correction through failure become self-learners and generally seek less external validation of their work.
Create Community for yourself and your child
Parenting has shifted in our modern times and even more so for the globally mobile family. Never before has so much and so little been available to parents. There are endless books on how to “parent” but relatively little guidance in the life-altering experience of being a parent. The best predictor of our child’s success is your self-understanding of yourself and acceptance of the person you are raising. Build roots for yourself to get the support you need by reaching out to other parents locally. There are groups through your school, you can invite another parent from the class to coffee, or you can seek support for the specific needs. If you have a child with high needs, special needs, emotional sensitivity etc. there are other parents in the same boat. They won’t solve your problems for you but can be a helpful ally to finding compassion for yourself and your child through challenges you are having. Connect with teachers early to facilitate bonding with your child. Talk about their teacher fondly and often to support their relationship development. Prepare playdates as a way to get to know other parents and for your child to expand their horizons socially. Reach out to teachers to share your insights early if you notice any struggles for your child or if you have background that can support them in better understanding your child. Know that if you or your child are struggling there are support resources available.
Wishing you and your child(ren) a school year of wonder and discovery!