Everywhere you look, it’s becoming more obvious: the “back to school” bug is upon us! It’s time to load up the backpacks and make the carpool arrangements. Late night homework sessions are just around the corner, but there are a few lessons to be taught before that big first day – lessons that have nothing to do with reading or writing. I offer five back-to-school conversations to have with your child before the bell ever rings.
How to Be a Friend
This is something your child has been “practicing” since Pre-K, but it’s a good idea to specifically discuss what being a good friend “looks like” and “sounds like.” Talk over the likely scenarios that will flare up, both in and out of the classroom. How will your child respond when someone is unkind to them? What will they do if they witness someone being unkind to others? Once you have talked (and listened!) to their ideas, practice with them! Act it out. It may sound cheesy, but when your child is faced with those friendship tests (and they will be!), they can think back to those scenarios you role played, and be prepared to handle them appropriately.
How to Make a Friend
Making friends seems like a natural skill, but it doesn’t always come easily for kids. Being in a new classroom with a new teacher, and a new group of children, is a lot of change and change always feels uncomfortable. I have to share a personal experience that may sound silly. (My husband gets a good laugh every time I talk about it.) My mom is the best teacher I know — both in the classroom, and in life. I vividly remember getting ready to enter Kindergarten and worrying out loud to my mom about not having any friends. Her reply was so simple – but so profound. She said, “All you have to do is walk up to someone and say, ‘Hi! My name is Lyndsi. What’s your name? Do you want to be friends?’ ” I did. And it worked! While that may seem like an unimportant, trivial conversation, she provided me with an invaluable script — a couple of easy sentences that would pave the way for me to forge friendships. We need to teach our children to be the one to make the first move.
Set Specific Goals & Expectations
Take a few minutes to talk with your child about your expectations for them, and listen as they tell you their goals and expectations for themselves. Often we hear parents say, “Just do your best!” — and leave it at that. If your child comes home with an ‘F’ on her report card and tells you she tried her best, then what? Technically, she's met your expectation. It is important to do your best, but if we don’t set a specific bar we may end up with entitled children who believe that success comes easy — that success doesn’t matter.
Look for the Helper
You’re probably familiar with this infamous saying from good ol’ Mr. Rogers. Year ago, this television treasure shared his own mother’s sound advice with the world. In his words: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’" And it’s so true! School can feel like a scary place, especially in the beginning. Remind them that their teacher is on their team - but it doesn’t stop there! When they are scared, they should look for helpers, like the principle, aides, even the janitor! You may want to consider taking it one step further by taking an early field trip to the school and meeting those “other helpers.”
Don’t Be Afraid to Be Afraid
Sometimes we put so much focus on “being brave,” and we forget it’s normal to feel nervous about new things. Before you jump in and try to coach your child away from the butterflies, remember what they felt like. I always take comfort in knowing what I’m seeing/feeling/experiencing is normal – and kids are no different. Moms are protectors, and that role can trigger a natural instinct to want to make things as comfortable as possible. Instead, take comfort in knowing the fear your little one is experiencing is normal – even good for them! And let them know that, too.
Bottom line: it can be hard on our “mama hearts” to watch those babies embark on new adventures! Even though we can’t completely calm the back-to-school jitters, we can still do OUR homework to ensure they possess the tools and lessons to help them succeed.
About the Author: Lyndsi Frandsen is the creator of the Facebook page For All Momkind and author of the For All Momkind blog. She has many titles, including wife, kindergarten teacher and sister, but her favorite title is mom.