By Nancy Tuohy
We all know the excitement that surrounds the first day of school. New stuff, new teachers, new classmates. It’s all shiny and bright. And then, we get to day 3 and beyond….
The plain truth is not every child greets the new school year with ongoing joy. The honeymoon can end rather quickly. And then we doubt ourselves, our schools, our teachers. Something must be wrong if Suzie doesn’t want to go back on the 4th day of school, right?
Guess what….this is totally normal.
We live in a time where we as parents pressure ourselves to create and maintain a stress-free, pain-free, success-oriented world for our kids.
A recent article by Lisa Damour in the New York Times entitled “It’s Not a ‘Problem.’ It’s Called Being a Child.” hit home for me. She says:
“Every age comes with its own challenges that unfold in a predictable, unstoppable sequence.
If this has always been true, why articulate it now? Because we live in a time when some anxious parents believe that the path to adult success must be unmarred by conflict, distress or boredom. These parents can press schools — especially expensive schools or schools competing for students — to partner with them in pursuit of this fantasy. In doing so, both parties set up a disingenuous conversation about what is actually involved in normal development.”
In truth, the path to adult success must include conflict, distress and boredom. The start of a new school year can bring all of this to light. In a matter of days!
As parents, we do such a great job shielding our children from danger and pain. The start of school is stressful for every child. Some cope without obvious signs, others let you know in very outward and dramatic ways. Super Mama Bear may feel like doing a number of things, including requesting to switch teachers, calling the principal, calling the counselor, or buying just the right $80 shoes to soothe the savage beast. (I am certainly guilty of at least one!)
Another quote from Ms. Damour hits home at the start of school:
“When a child struggles, parents should not assume a shortcoming in the school any more than the school should assume a shortcoming in the parents. Everyone benefits when the strains of normal development are expected — even welcomed — and taken in stride.”
It’s always hard to entrust our children to others. I think of all the things my kids’ new teachers don’t know about them yet. All the little things that could make their daily lives more comfortable and secure.
But try as I might, my job isn’t to pave the way along a yellow brick road. It’s to step back, with great pride in what I’ve done up to this point. And know that stress builds character, that if I remove obstacles in their paths, they will never be the strong, wise adults I hope they will be. By stepping back, I can allow my children to rise to these high expectations. By hovering, this can’t happen.
As much as I read about child development, it’s always easier when it’s someone else’s child! That said, we can all learn by reading about child development. My favorite books are: Ginsberg, Building Resilience in Children and Teens; Wood, Yardsticks: Children in the Classroom Ages 4-14; and the entire Gesell Age Book series.
Great teachers study child development. Great teachers know the stress school brings to a child’s life. Great teachers exist in every school. Great teachers help us understand what is normal versus a real problem. Let’s step back and let them rise to our expectations, just as we (try really hard) to step back and allow our children to rise too.
Pat yourself on the back Super Mama Bear. The honeymoon may be over but real adventure has just begun! Let’s make it a great year.
Nancy Tuohy is mom to 1st and 4th grade boys. She is a Wake Forest University alum and former pediatric nurse. Currently Nancy serves as Director of Admissions at Summit School.