The start of a new school year can bring up feelings of anxiety, excitement, unhappiness, or stress for both parents and kids. It is also a great opportunity to plant the seeds of new habits and skills, which will be nurtured and developed over time... Not just regarding your child’s academic performance, but also for your communication and relationship with them!
Here are some tips to set the tone for 2022 in a loving and productive way:
We often hear parents complain that their kids are “not stressed enough”, hoping that more stress or anxiety would lead to better effort or results. While it’s true that some stress can be motivational for some individuals, remember that your ultimate goal is not for your child to feel afraid or miserable.
As such, instead of trying to push your children with fear and force, try motivating them with encouragement and assurance. Their mental health and self-confidence, as well as your relationship with them, do not need to be in competition with their academic growth.
The transition between holidays and school can already be sudden and difficult for kids. No matter “how many times” they’ve gone through this transition, it doesn’t make it any easier! In fact, you might notice that for older kids, because school is tougher or their exams are higher-stakes, they dread returning to school even more.
Nagging your kids about the privileges they will soon lose or teasing them about going back to “reality” reinforce a negative association with school. These things can cause your child to cling on even more desperately to what they will soon “lose”.
Reminding your child repeatedly about the “big change” to come is not exactly preparing them for the transition. If you wish to support them through the back-to-school transition, you could…
Schedules and targets that are enforced top-down can feel like restrictions or punishments. Children, just like adults, are far more likely to stick to a plan or work towards goals that they played a part in creating.
The start of a new year is a good chance to invite your child to collaborate with you in building their schedule and setting goals. Though your child might not be able to come up with a comprehensive set of “SMART” Goals right off the bat, now is a wonderful time to begin growing that long-term skill.
This curiosity should span more than just 1 conversation, and it shouldn’t come with any strings attached. Your hope is simply to open up a channel of communication with your child, starting the year off by letting them know that you’re a listening ear they can confide in.
Be careful not to turn this conversation into a covert goal-setting operation. Your objective is not to squeeze out “targets” or remind your child of the “consequences”. Instead, channel your energy and attention into acknowledging their thoughts & feelings, even if they don’t relate to grades.
If your child is struggling to settle down and adjust to the new semester, remember they are likely unable, not unwilling! In other words, they’re not just being stubborn or lazy – there is something preventing them from doing their best.
Shifting your own mindset can help you be curious and encouraging, instead of critical and judgemental. It puts you on your child’s side, helping them to identify and overcome their obstacles, rather than against your child, threatening and punishing them to obey you.
To identify the barriers in your child’s way, start by observing situations in which they get stuck or distracted:
Next, make an empathetic guess about how they feel, or invite them to share their perspective:
As we wrote in a previous blog post , goal-setting is a skill developed over time. Forcing goals onto your child could not only cause feelings of resistance or discouragement, but it also misses an invaluable learning experience in which your child tries to plan their own path.
Each parent knows their own child best – your child may not be ready to set their own long-term goals, but that doesn’t mean that they have no autonomy! You can outline big-picture or long-term goals for your child, then invite them to fill in the blanks along the way with realistic & measurable intermediate mini-goals.
Although this is a process that begins at the start of the school year, it’s also important to remember that your plan and goals should be reviewed and adjusted throughout the year. Remind yourself that while you should work hard towards your goals, your goals must also work for you!
If your child’s routine or goals are making them feel defeated, exhausted, or hopeless, it doesn’t plainly mean they need to “buck up and work harder”. Rather, it is also a call to review their roadmap and adjust their mini-goals accordingly.
We hope you find these tips helpful as you support your child in their next school year! Remember: none of these skills are honed overnight. You and your child may not be perfect, but you’re always learning and growing – that’s far more important.
Wishing you a mindful and positive start to 2022!