By Nichole A. Cavallaro
This month’s theme is education and I am going to touch on a few topics regarding our children going back to school or starting a new school and how to cope with that transition. I think I can safely say that when the last week of August transitions into September, that’s when I’m ready for my child to go back to school. It’s not out of annoyance (unless you catch me on those days where the constant begging and ranting about being bored comes into play), but out of excitement for her to get back into her routine, learn some new things in second grade and see her friends again.
I am a parent who works from home (remotely) and that classifies me as having two jobs. Neither are easy. I have had the experience of working away from my daughter and working while she’s with me. Both have perks. The good thing about working away from the home, for me, was that I got a break from the day of being a 24/7 parent. It’s true and it’s okay to admit that! Now that I’m home, it’s 24/7 parenting and employee during the summer, holidays, sick days and those Syracuse snow days.
It’s when she is actually gone during the week once school resumes is when I got a little sad. This happened last year. Her toys, pajamas and breakfast dishes were strewn about and the house was quiet. After about a month, I was back into my usual work flow and would resume picking her up after the school day. On the other hand, it’s still a challenge when you work out of the home like a majority of parents do and have to get yourself up early and your child/ren up early! It can be chaos as everyone has different needs at the same time. I can share with you my experience and hopefully I can capture some relatable topics!
What I learned with a first-grader
- Make sure ALL documents for school nurse, bus/transportation departments, signed parental forms, emergency contact forms are signed, dated and turned in on time. This is that extra later of support around your child’s wellbeing and safety. Don’t forget these.
- A routine has to be down; otherwise it makes mornings challenging. Alarm for waking up, what I call “bathroom stuff” (teeth brushing, face washing, hair brushing, etc.). A big one: laying outfits out the night before. I’m telling you, this helps so much. Same with lunches if they prefer to bring instead of buy! If there is no time for breakfast, take advantage of the free breakfasts at school in the early hours. They need to eat to function through a whole day, just like you need to.
- Ask for help, if you can, in rides, lunch prep, etc. Even ask your child/ren to get them used to being in charge of little tasks. They LOVE this.
- DO NOT RUSH. You will get there when you get there. It is not worth rushing around in a frenzy if it ends up yelling at your kid, hating yourself or getting into an accident or a speeding ticket. People at work need to understand that family and health come first, not a 9 a.m. meeting. If you are going to be late, communicate this to who you need to, and call for extra support to help if you can. I know this is a hard one to accept. And I learned the harsh reality of being exposed to parental discrimination from bosses and coworkers. But the quick way to get over that added anxiety? Say to yourself: “Oh, well. Are they going to take care of my family? Nope, I am.” That is the honest truth at the end of your day.
One thing I haven’t been through before is a child of mine going to a new school or going to college for the first time. However, adapting to change is universal and here are some things that can help you overcome the anxiety, fears and maintain success through it all.
- Make sure you know the staff, the entrances and exits, and have done a tour of the school. Help your child/children acclimate as much as you can in the physical environment.
- Remember starting a new job and feeling like no one would like you or you wouldn’t be good enough? Imagine how a child feels with all of that insecurity in them? What would you tell the younger you then, and what will you tell your little one now? Some ideas can be “You know what when I started my new job, I was so scared I’d mess up! But I got used to it and I am doing it, you can too!” Relate it to your own experiences, because frankly, they’re not far off if you think about it.
- After the day, be interested in what they did, who they met, what they saw, how they felt. You don’t need to go into a full-blown therapy session, just ask some basic questions and follow up with the teacher after a few weeks if needed.
Going to college for the first time
- Prepare in advance what you plan on doing for yourself. When they were there, they filled your home with a different energy. You have to replace that energy. This is important because you need to be happy too and they don’t want to go away feeling like they’re the cause of your anxiety — which they are not.
- Make sure your son or daughter has all the necessary documents they need. This is new to them, too, so work as a team and teach them. This goes from teaching them their Social Security number to what bank, if any, they’re checking account is in, to their health insurance plan. Anything you need, they might need, too, but on a smaller scale.
- Schedule times to talk on the weekends or in the middle of the week if you can.
- Make holidays and vacations/breaks as important as they were when they were home.
- Do not have expectations that things will be normal when they are home for the summer or on breaks: they may want a change or different experiences based on what they have learned and who they met. Be flexible but still parental: you don’t need to let them fully go just yet.
- If college is not an option, look into courses online, local community colleges or getting a job to earn some income. There is no cookie cutter way to start or continue education. There is always support and guidance available to those who want their children to be better, learn more and work to enjoy their lives.
Enlisting into the military
- The military is a completely different lifestyle. I encourage you to educate yourself on the available support groups, military family-based groups and benefits available to your child if they are choosing to enlist. The military offers many positive benefits.
- Enlisting is a personal choice. Just like going to a college, marrying, or moving away. Many have chosen to become officers, gotten educational aid and earned degrees. Many have chosen to enlist and then find out it’s not for them. Try to support them in whatever they feel is good for them, as long as they are informed of what the possibilities are.
Remember: no matter what transition or change you are dealing with regarding your son or daughter’s educational experiences, it is always a matter of letting go: in the micro sense and macro sense. There is always support to deal with the anxiety, the fear and the worry we feel. And guess what they feel it too! Little ones, the not so little ones and the older ones: they all feel nervous too they just can’t detect it as well as we can. So be a support to them, and be a support to yourself.
Nichole is a mental health provider and writes about mental health and wellness issues on her blog, found at mentalhealthwellnesstherapy.com and self-mom.com.