By Valeria Vilar, MA, BEd, LMHC
The beginning of a new school year is coming soon. Like crossing an invisible wall, one day, in the middle of the vacations, families start thinking about it. Expectations, hopes, very good memories appear, but also fears, concern and very bad memories resurface. Not only the children are assailed by conflicting emotions, also parents begin to feel the pressure. Particularly in a society like ours, that stresses so much the performance aspects of every action, the first day of school becomes a phantom event, which could leave serious emotional scars if faced unprepared.
When the first day of school looms on the horizon, the kids start to imagine all sort of complicated scenarios for a young brain: how is my new teacher going to be? Are the new classmates going to like me? Will I be a better student or fall behind like last year? Previous experiences could help kids ease some of their concerns or fuel others. Bullies and social awkwardness are concrete threats. Parents, on the other hand, have similar thoughts, most of the time symmetric to their kid’s ones: Will my child be a good student this year? Will she/he make good friends and be accepted as who she/he is? Is she/he smart enough to face the learning process and overcome the challenges each new school year presents? Will I be summoned again by teacher/counselor/principal to hear complaints about behavior or learning problems?
Most parents take advantage of their vacation time to talk to their children and anticipate conflicts. Nothing secures more effectively a good transition from vacation to school than a fluent communication between parents and children. It is the perfect time to reinforce our commitment as parents to be strong allies of our children’s needs at school and to reiterate our love and trust in their capabilities and talents.
Nevertheless, some families lack a good communication process. Things are left unsaid or are expressed in an inadequate way, as threats that generate guilt and shame and end up adding to the difficulties of the school process the extra burden of frustration.
Parent and children both need a set of tools to succeed at school, mostly communication and teamwork tools. When a kid goes to school on the first day musing “I don’t know what I can do to please my mom and dad, I tried before and I can’t do it”. “I don’t care”, “Whatever”. “I can’t change”, “I’m a loser, and a parent, at the same time, thinks “I can’t make my son/daughter change”, “We are losers”, “We are bad parents”, we can anticipate a year full of conflicts and a failure in the making. It is at that time, though, when the healing process should begin, for there are no losers or bad kids or bad parents by definition. There are only new opportunities for families to look for a change, to try to find harmony in their lives and reaching out to learn how to use the appropriate tools that help them achieve their potential.