by NCNOCO Staff Therapist
If you are like me, back-to-school season is a mixed bag of emotions. The transition from summer to fall brings the excitement of new experiences and opportunities for my children to grow. It also brings nervous energy as I send my children into new places and hope that I’ve prepared them well for what they will face in the year ahead. But these are my concerns, my emotions. My children have their own set of emotions, worries and expectations as they think about school starting. In talking with some friends, the question came up, “How do we really prepare our children to go back-to-school?” This got me thinking, maybe the answer to this question (in a round-a-bout way) is by asking, “How do I prepare MYSELF for my kids to go back to school?” This may sound silly given that I already went to school and dealt with many (too many to count) years of first days and awkward moments and new friends, schedules, teachers, etc. But as a family, we feel each other’s emotions, be it joy, sadness, fear or aggravation. We are a system after all and we respond to each other (often unconsciously) and play off of each other all the time. Dr. Laura Markham explains this process much better than I can. In her blog at Aha! Parenting she describes why changing ourselves ultimately results in changes in our children.
- Children learn emotional regulation from us. Kids won’t always do what we say, but they will always, eventually, do what we do. If we indulge in throwing things, slamming doors, and yelling, so will they. If we can stay calm, they learn that it’s not actually an emergency when they get upset, and they learn to calm themselves.
- The emotional safety we create for our children is exactly what allows them to heal, grow and thrive. Like us, children WANT to feel happy and connected, but sometimes their fear or anger overwhelms them. Our calm gives them a path back to loving connection. When they feel better, they do better.
- When we provide a calm “holding environment” for our children, they feel safe enough to experience their emotions, which is what allows those big feelings to evaporate. Kids learn that feelings are just part of being human, and we don’t have to fear them–OR act on them.
- When children respect us and feel understood by us, they want to follow our lead.So they’re more open to our guidance, more likely to follow our rules.
- Children are sensitive barometers of our moods and tensions. If we have an unresolved issue, we can count on them to subconsciously pick up on it and act out. So very often, when we work on our own issues, we find that our child’s behavior changes–even without our directly addressing it!
- When we respond differently, so does our child. Remember, it’s always your child’s action + your response that = the outcome. When we get triggered and react without thinking, we escalate the storm. When we respond more mindfully, we settle the storm–and create more connection. Less drama, more love.
The good news is, even if our children have learned some counter-productive habits, it’s never too late for them to learn to manage themselves emotionally. The key is our role-modeling.
“It’s never too late…!” Thankfully, each day and each back-to school season is a new opportunity for us to work on ourselves and therefore help our children work through the challenging emotions that come with the various transitions they experience. An adult that can regulate their own emotions and exemplify emotional health to their children will raise kids that are likely more resilient and able to navigate life.