We have been amazed at how much good parenting information is in children’s picture books – books that we hope you are reading everyday to the children in your lives – your own, your class, those you take care of. We will be pointing these parenting gems out to you so that every time you read one of our featured books to a child you will be reminded of the parent you want to be.
Featured Picture Book
OLIVER AND HIS ALLIGATOR by Paul Schmid
(Available at your local public library or bookstores, including online stores.)
In OLIVER AND HIS ALLIGATOR, Oliver is afraid about the first day of school. His “… brave wasn’t nearly as big as he needed it to be.” He got braver by taking an alligator to school with him. Each time Oliver was afraid or nervous, all he could say was, “‘Munch, munch!’” Each time Oliver said, “Munch. Munch!” the alligator swallowed and the person or thing making Oliver afraid was gone. After everything had been munched, and there was no one left at school, Oliver was bored. Eventually Oliver could hear fun and activity inside the alligator. It sounded like school was going on, so Oliver announced “’Munch, munch!’” The alligator swallowed and Oliver joined the fun at his first day of school – inside the alligator.
Commercials about the first days of school
I want to start my thoughts with saying how much I dislike the TV commercials that show moms and dads saying how much they can’t wait for their kids to go back to school and be out of their hair. It makes me sad that children are watching these commercials and thinking, “This is what my parents really think about me.” What a no-good kind of feeling that is to think people you love can’t wait until you are not around anymore. Advertisers, is this really the only way you can think of to get parents to buy your school clothes or supplies? You can do better!
That said, a note to parents: I realize there are good things about having the kids back in school. I’ve been there. I felt the relief of not doing childcare for so many hours straight day after day, maybe having some “me” time, having my day organized differently and just having a change in the routine when school started each year. I’m not suggesting there’s anything wrong with looking forward to the change to a school-time routine. I am just suggesting that this does not mean that you dislike your children or hate being a mom or dad. So, let’s not have the TV full of messages about how we can’t wait to get rid of our kids at this time of year. What can you do about these ads? Write to the advertisers. Write to your local TV station. When those commercials come on, say out loud in front of your kids that YOU don’t feel that way.
Fears about the first days of school
We are used to thinking about little kids being afraid on the first day of school – kindergartners and first graders. We are used to thinking of elementary school kids at any age who are going to a new school as being afraid on the first day of school. But, I am encouraging you to consider that all kids are at least nervous about the first day of school no matter what school or what age.
There is something I call “visiting again” that means that the same feelings felt by younger kids will be felt by kids again and again at older ages when they are faced with certain situations. One of those situations is going to school on the first day. What does that mean? It means that even a freshman in high school can feel a lot like a first grader. The nerves will look more grown up. The freshman will not hold onto mom’s skirt or refuse to enter the building – that would be embarrassing. But, he might lollygag and be late getting started the first day or be obsessed with what he’s wearing or who is taking him to school. He might be just generally hard to get along with around his parents or brothers and sisters.
Just remember, we are all a little afraid or nervous when faced with new situations. Even adults visit childhood feelings again and again. Think about the first day on a job or in a new work group at the office. Don’t assume that because the older kids are acting all grown up that they don’t have a lot of growing up yet to do. Think of ways you can support them in these first days of school – at all ages. Of course, our little ones are especially fearful because they have not learned as many ways to handle fear as we have as adults or as older kids may have.
Also be aware that the fears may not take over and be easy to see until a few days, weeks or months down the road. Some kids suck it up, let their excitement take over at first and appear to have no problem starting school. Then, the fun wears off and the worries and pressures take over and suddenly there is resistance to going to school. For older kids, like new college students, this can hit as late as the second semester of the freshman year or even the second year as they begin their sophomore year. So, be on the lookout for delayed reactions. Maybe everything will be smooth the first day or two or even for the first week and then there will be problems the second or third day or week.
Be sure to check our daily DECIDE and PRACTICE posts for some tips on how to deal with the first days of school.
Going to school means missing special things
Earlier this year I wrote about kids and school. It’s worth repeating as so many parents are dealing with the start of school this month. When my children went off to kindergarten, I remember making a list of all the things they had to give up: a pacifier, a blanket, a loved stuffed animal, their favorite show on daytime TV (There were no DVRs or even VCRs back then.), their favorite toys, being asked what they want for lunch, their own bed for a nap and time with me – made worse for the oldest because a younger sister was still at home with me all day.
So what do we do about this, you might be asking. Children have to grow up. They have to go to school. I am suggesting that we recognize the struggle they may be having from giving things up. We can help them. We can make sure they have times when they can still be dependent and be taken care of while we still let them know that we expect them to learn to be independent in many ways. We can let them know we are proud of them for being more grown up when they go to school while we still treat them like we did when they were younger some of the time and allow them to depend on us.
Comforting kids through the first days of school
Earlier this year I also wrote about balancing out the way we interact with our children – balancing between loving them and teaching them – loving them just because they are who they are and teaching them to be independent and capable of taking care of themselves. That balance can be one of the best ways to comfort kids through the first days of school.
I picture a teeter-totter when I think of this balance. The goal is to keep the teeter-totter suspended in a straight line. On one side, we load up messages and actions that tell a child that they are important to us no matter what. On the other side, we pile on messages and actions that tell a child they can learn things; they are expected to learn things and you’ll help them learn what they need to know to be happy and independent. When they start off to school, that learning, doing, following rules side of the teeter-totter is at a peak. That is what school is all about. That is what can be pretty scary. Will I know the rules? Will I have enough self-control to follow the rules? Will friends like me or make fun of me if I do follow the rules?
Likewise, with all this emphasis on learning skills and rules, the love-me side of the teeter-totter can get very low to the ground. This is where you can help right away. Make sure your young school children get plenty of snuggling and “lovey” things at home to balance out all of the grown up expectations at school. Make sure they get extra compliments – but, only true ones. (See true compliments) Make sure they get extra time with you and the other things they are going to miss while at school. And, don’t forget that the older kids need this balance just as much as the kindergartners and first graders.
Teens think that in order to gain their freedom, they can’t be taken care of anymore and that being taken care of is a weakness. You can help them see this in a different way. Gladly take care of them during these days of starting school. Look for ways to comfort them and show them affection – but, probably not too publicly. Most teenagers don’t want to be kissed or hugged by their parents in public, but you may be able to get away with it privately at home. Keep doing it as long as they will accept it.
When teens are not very accepting of showing affection, you can still do other comforting things. You can fix a favorite meal. You can stroke an arm or give a shoulder massage sitting on the bed at night. By the way, bedtime is a great time for special messages, both messages you say and messages you give through your actions. When youngsters are tired, some of their defenses are down. They will give in to listening or accepting your words and actions when they won’t during the day while they are full of energy and focused on other things.
And, remember that wrestling, chasing and rolling around on the floor are other forms of showing affection for many kids. For the kid that doesn’t take to hugging very well, rough housing is a great substitute. Just make sure that you both are having fun. If only one of you is enjoying the activity, it is time to stop and try at another time. You can start by asking if the child wants to play, and you can agree on a signal that both of you will use to say its time to stop.
How to talk with your kids when they come home from school
Don’t fire question after question. Remember that school is their experience; they own it. Be interested in their day. Be available to hear about any problems, but don’t act like a detective.
“How was school today?” Or, “What was the best thing about school today?” may be ideas that are too big. Children may not know how to sum up a long and complicated day into one answer. They may not be able to prioritize such a long, important experience into one best thing. Also, younger children may not know enough words to answer such big questions. Ask smaller questions. Try breaking down the questions by being more specific. “What was lunch like?” Or recess? Or the bus ride? “What was one thing you liked or didn’t like at school today?”
If you still get no details, let it go. Accept that it is your child’s experience. If there is something you particularly want or need to know ask it very specifically. “Did you have all the supplies you needed? Did you have the right colors in your crayon box? Did you see so and so or play with so and so?”
Bottom line, to help your kids get through their school fears those first few days, make sure they know you love who they are, like having them around, have fun with them, are there to talk when they want to and are glad they are growing up.
Be sure to check our daily DECIDE and PRACTICE posts for some tips on how to do this.
Daily Parenting Tip
What kind of parent do you want to be? Or grandparent, teacher or caregiver?
A GREAT one!
You can be exactly that – just “Decide and Practice.”
DECIDE what you are going to think about the kids in your life.
DECIDE what you are going to feel about the kids in your life.
DECIDE how you are going to act with the kids in your life.
Fear of New Things
Decide: You can grow up over and over again.
Practice: Today, think about the last time you felt nervous or afraid about going somewhere. Think about how you got past your concern. Share your experience and your solutions with your child.
Let us know which tips you like the best or any others you think of that you want to pass along to others.
Today’s Decide and Practice daily parenting tip was inspired by our featured picture book, OLIVER AND HIS ALLIGATOR. Read the book to a child in your life each day as a reminder of what you are deciding and practicing that day.
Come back each day for another good parenting decision and how to practice it. (Each day’s activity will also be posted on Daily Parenting Tips page for easy access.)
Read the whole story at First Days of School.
Read All About It
GROWING UP AGAIN, Jean Illsley Clarke and Connie Dawson
SELF ESTEEM A FAMILY AFFAIR, Jean Illsley Clarke
CONNECTIONS: THE TREADS THAT STRENGTHEN FAMILIES, Jean Illsley Clarke
*HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH? Jean Illsley Clarke, Connie Dawson and David Bredehofts
WHAT DO YOU DO WITH A CHILD LIKE THIS? Larry Tobin
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Teachers, this is your place. Read all about how to use this blog in your classroom on the Teacher’s Corner page.
Here are our newest ideas based on “First Days of School.”
PROMPTS FROM OLIVER AND HIS ALLIGATOR
- What was the first day or first week of school like for you this year? What caused it to be like that? Was it the way you wished it would be? If not, can you think of things that might make it better next year?
- Are their things you miss while you are in school? How do you deal with that?
- How could your family best help you deal with the fears, worries, confusion or chaos of starting school? (For example, more family time, more alone time, favorite foods, encouragement, etc.)
- How do you think parents should talk to their kids about school? How much do you think they should expect to know about school? What’s the best way to get a conversation going with you about school?
- Check out the DECIDE AND PRACTICE tips. Here are some that could be adapted for a classroom activity and could end with a reflective writing assignment. Watch for them: August 15, 19, 20, 21, 24 and 26.
NOTE: If you prefer that students have a choice about whether they write about themselves, all of these prompts can also be worded to be about someone the student knows. For example, what was the first day or first week of school like for someone you know (a friend or brother or sister) this year? What caused it to be like that? Was it the way he or she wished it would be? If not, can you think of things that might make it better for him or her next year?