A few years ago, when my oldest daughter Lulu was entering first grade, I remember having a conversation with her teacher that went something like this:
“Tell us about Lulu’s temperament during the day. We’re worried that she’s too assertive and controlling at school. Can you let us know how she’s doing?”
Her teacher responded as one would hope a thoughtful teacher would: “Can you tell me why you’re wondering about that?”
And my response was, “Well, when she comes home from school she’s, well, she’s a little bit wild. She is loud and a little (and I hate the word) bossy and kind of a terror. We’re just wondering if you see some of those same behaviors in class?”
To which Lulu’s teacher said, “No. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Lulu is kind, gentle, and the kind of child that I am very comfortable even leaving in charge of the class while I run down to the office or get supplies. She’s an excellent example for her classmates, some of whom have some real behavioral challenges.”
And then she said something that was pretty powerful: “Lulu probably acts out some when she comes home because she feels like she has permission to do that. She’s pent up all day in a very structured environment and when she comes home, she feels comfortable and safe letting some of those other emotions out with you.”
We’d never really thought about it that way before and it’s helping us, now, as our daughter Margaret goes to kindergarten. What is “it” you say?
- School often is a highly structured environment that can change behaviors in positive ways but also constrains children in ways that they don’t expect.
- The school day – particularly after a summer of leisure – is hard. Children are asked to attend to things, follow a structure, and behave in ways that aren’t necessarily consistent with the more free-wheeling summer time.
- Children get tired and when children get tired – just like adults – they are more uninhibited. This is particularly true at the end of the school day.
- When the child comes home, they have a freedom to express themselves in ways that they may not feel safe expressing in school. They need to be given boundaries, but also continue to feel safe to unwind and level out their emotions after a draining day.
Reflecting on our experience with our son, now 10 and our daughter Lulu, we’re more ready for what’s to come with our newly-minted kindergartner, Margaret. But it doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard or challenging. We find that thinking about those words of wisdom from Lulu’s teacher helps us understand how we can be better, more positive parents during this big, exciting, and draining time of transition for our kindergartner.
What tips do you have for helping parents and children cope with back to school? Share in the comments below.
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