September is here! It’s time to start thinking about getting your children ready for school. You have to find the time to purchase backpacks, buy new shoes, stock your pantry with healthy, non-perishable lunch items (if there is such a thing), get your children back on their regular sleep schedule… and then there’s mental readiness.
Some of you are probably thinking, “Yes! I’m going to get back to my routine!” Others are thinking, “Oh no, I have to prepare myself to let go!” Now at a different stage of life, my husband and I were recently lamenting our empty nest. We realized that this is what happens when we accomplish our mission as parents. Our job is to make sure that our children can live independently, support themselves and create meaningful lives. No matter what age your child is, it is never easy to let them go.
But let them go we must. First, however, we have to find a way to help them develop self-esteem and become self-reliant. How does that happen? As an educator, one of the best resources that I have found to develop self-esteem in children (and quite frankly adults) is Dr. Becky Bailey’s Conscious Discipline approach. One of the foundations of her emotional intelligence wisdom is the skill of empathy. Becky professes that when you empathize with your children, you both validate their feelings and show them that you do indeed care about them.
So what does that look like on the first day of school? First as a parent, you set the environment to win. You make sure that you have the right items in the backpack; you make sure the sneakers fit and you definitely have your emotions in check. You are your child’s compass. If you are crying at drop-off, that may lead them to think that school isn’t such a good place. As you drop them off, with a big smile on your face, you make sure that you’ve told them how much you love them, what a great day they will have and exactly where you will be picking them up. Then you give your goodbye hug and go back to your car. Really, you don’t turn around and blow kisses and let them see you cry.
Now comes the really hard part. You pick up your children from school and they may not have had the best day. Maybe their best friend is not in their classes, maybe the teacher wouldn’t let them read the books they brought in their backpacks or maybe they are just tired. How you help your children frame their day is where the skill of empathy comes in. You have to develop the ability to be a good listener and not always the problem solver. Your child needs to trust that their teacher is going to take good care of them. Some compassionate responses to your child would be questions such as “How did that make you feel?” “How did you handle that?” “What can you do next time?”or “Isn’t it great to make new friends?”
Parenting isn’t always easy, but if you’re lucky, you will have the joy of watching your babies become independent contributing adults. Maybe if you’re even luckier, your children will give you grandchildren that live in the same state.
Dr. Gampel has been the Early Childhood Education Director for the last 24 years at Bet Shira Congregation. Dr. Gampel received her Doctorate in Administration from the University of Miami, her Master of Science in Reading from Florida International University and her Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education from the University of Florida.