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Back to School Strategies for Parents

Staying Present and Connected With Your Children 

middle aged mother and teen daughter chatting on bed

The first day of school has arrived, and I find the mother in me zeroing in on my kids and their needs.  Do they have what they need to manage the day — the backpack with school supplies, a lunch that’s healthy and brain sustaining, and, despite the all-familiar butterflies, the confidence to greet the newness that the beginning of a school year brings?

As parents, we are well aware of the myriad of factors that contribute to a successful first day, week, and school year — some of these are the practical things like the backpack, school supplies, and lunch; but the more critical less-tangible factors are the qualities that are unique and personal to a child growing up.

As a retired 3rd grade teacher of 32 years, and a team member here at PassageWorks, I am reminded today that our children’s social-emotional health, what we call their “inner life” is at the very heart of what’s most important.

We define inner life as the essential aspect of human nature that 
yearns for deep connection (to self, others, the community, and 
the world), grapples with questions of meaning and purpose, 
seeks genuine forms of self-expression, and longs to learn and grow.” 
p 32 The 5 Dimensions of Engaged Teaching

As parents, nurturing our selves is also vital. Three practices that are key supports to our role as parents are: Self Care, Staying Present, and Connecting with our kids.

What does this mean for us as parents?  It means that on this first day of school and the days that follow, it’s essential for us to take care of our selves and to nurture what fuels and sustains us, so that we can then have the emotional capacity to give to others.  Just like the instruction we receive on airplanes — to put on our oxygen masks first!

What do these three ingredients look like in the home?  For me, self-care means showering, meditating, and then giving myself the gift of some quiet think-time — a few moments of reflection about what this new day is bringing.  How do I want to show up on this first day of school for my children?  What do each of my teenage daughters need, as individuals, as they go out into the world today?  Taking the time to ask and answer these questions brings me into the present moment.  It brings me to a grounded and heart-centered place where I’m ready to connect and offer support.

Every family has its regular morning routines.  I sit at the edge of each daughter’s bed, and check in with my daughters, one at a time — connecting my heart to theirs and allowing theirs to connect with mine.  Slowly.  Naturally.

With my fourteen year old, I acknowledge her efforts to finish her assigned summer reading and reassure her as a first day freshman.  I let her know that I am here to help. With my 16 year old, it is about recognizing her efforts to complete a project she’ll use with the incoming freshmen that day, expressing my confidence in her leadership skills, and reminding her that I believe in her.

Being present with each and making connections.

When we remember to take the time to be present with our children, we talk about what is real, what their truth is at that moment — whatever that may be.  By inviting our children to step into the conversation, they learn to be present, and identify their emotions and any needs they are experiencing.  When we speak together in this way, we support the cultivation of their inner life and their abilities to express a full range of emotions. We’re teaching our children to know their “self” and to show up authentically and confidently in their world.  Being in relationship with them in this way provides a model of how they can be in relationship with others.

 Professor emeritus and author Robert Sylwester says this about the  connection between emotions and learning, “Emotions drive  attention,  which drives learning, memory, and just about everything  else.”

The research on the impact of social-emotional well-being on learning is clear — when students are emotionally connected to their families, teacher and classroom, they can pay attention, remember what is important, excel at academics, and thrive in school.  As parents, we can support our children’s social-emotional growth every day, simply by inviting them to connect to themselves, to their home life and to their teachers and friends — giving them an opportunity to be seen and heard.

As parents, we all want our children to thrive.  We want them to have a successful first day, week, and school year.  The daily practices of Self-Care, Staying Present, and Connecting with our children supports us to be the parent we aspire to be.  Most importantly, it helps our children to develop their unique gifts and to bring them to the world.

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