Watching your kids grow up is hard. As much as I adore celebrating birthdays with my children, a little part of me hates it. I hate seeing them grow older because I desperately miss their past selves. Sometimes, when I am watching family videos from several years ago my heart just aches to hold my babies again, or to see my adorable toddlers again, or even just to have them be six years old again! Man, this mommy business is difficult!
When my eldest daughter went to her first day of Kindergarten, I was a mess. How on earth was I going to hand my little 4-year-old (yes--FOUR--she didn't turn five until October) to someone else for the day? I stayed as strong as I could while getting her situated in her new classroom, but as soon as I got in the car, I bawled all the way home.
This year, that same daughter will be starting her second year of HIGH SCHOOL. I don't even know what my life has come to because I am definitely not old enough to be the mother of a high school sophomore!
These kinds of big school transitions are especially difficult for parents because they are just as new for us as they are for our children. And let's not forget that these transitions are not usually easy for the kids, either, which gives mom and dad even more anxiety about the whole thing.
It doesn't have to be that way, though. Growing up is unfortunately necessary, and we can't keep our children little forever. We need to help them through these transitions as best we can without creating extra difficulty because it is hard for us. Here are a few things that have helped me:
Talk to Parents Who Have Already Been Through It
Part of the problem is that everything is so unknown, as I mentioned before. Last year, my middle daughter, Chloe, began middle school. I was not nearly as angsty about that transition as I was about my eldest starting high school. Why? Because I knew what to expect. Bria did not die from attending middle school, and so I was fairly confident that Chloe would not die, either. Plus, I was familiar with the teachers, the rules, and the homework, so I knew what she would be dealing with.
If this is the first time you are navigating the educational transition as a parent, find other parents who have done it before. (Preferably parents whose children are attending the same schools yours are.) Ask them as many questions as you can think of. Seriously, dump all your worries on them—they'll be happy to answer because they know what it's like. It's nice to know what you and your child will be facing well ahead of time.
What are the teachers like? What is the homework policy? How does the busing system work? What are the extracurricular activities like? Etc. Ask everything you can think of that might worry either you or your child.
Communicate With Your Child
Chances are that you aren't the only one with anxiety. Kids aren't sure what to expect during these transitions, either. Spend a good portion of the summer just talking with them and finding out what their concerns are. And then do your best to resolve those concerns.
Bria's biggest worry was whether she could memorize her locker combination and if she'd be able to even open her locker when she first went to middle school. Our solution was that we would go in a couple days before school started and practice until she felt completely comfortable (in our district you are allowed to do that).
When my youngest daughter was just starting Kindergarten, she was very worried about taking the bus home by herself after lunch since Kindergarten was half-day and she wouldn't have her older sister with her. I called the school to find out the protocol and we discussed it every day for several weeks before school started. When the bus dropped her off that first day, she was a very triumphant 5-year-old because she had been prepared. (She was also a very adorable 5-year-old!)
I have found that by working to alleviate my children's concerns, that my own are resolved in the process. Part of my worry is that my kid won't be able to unlock her locker or get home on the bus, so when I help her work through it, my own worries dissipate. It's kind of amazing.
Rely on Family Traditions--or Create New Ones!
Finally, I have found that when I work hard to make the beginning of the school year memorable for my kids, I don't have to think about all my worries as much. We have a few diehard traditions at our house for the beginning of the school year and they get the whole family excited about what could otherwise be a really anxious time.
Our favorite Back-to-School tradition is having our Back-to-School Feast the night before school starts. We introduce a family theme for the school year, have an amazing meal, and then do a fashion show where the girls model what they will wear on the first day.
The year Bria, my eldest, went into middle school I wanted to focus on that big transition with our family theme. So it was "I Can Do Hard Things." I loved the way she internalized it, as did my other two children. It helped me a lot that year, too. We can do hard things—and watching our kids grow up is hard, remember?
Two years ago, my youngest had recently had a diagnosis of Celiac so we focused our theme more on healthy eating:
And last year, I wanted to focus on making the big school transitions easier by creating good habits and getting rid of the bad ones. Our theme included important things for academic success like going to bed early and not being idle.
If you don't already have Back-to-School traditions, it's never too late to start! Ice-cream for breakfast, special school supply/clothes shopping dates, fancy dinners--anything wonderful you can think of to help you and your child look forward to school starting.
Even though Bria is a lot older than she was when we first started our Back-to-School feasts, she still wants to wear the silly homemade crown I make for them. She loves it. It's something to cling to.
And it's something for me to cling to as well.
I'll just have to think of something really amazing for her next educational transition: College. Thankfully, I have three more years (wait, only three?) to digest that information.
Here's to an amazing school year for the kids AND the parents!
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