With the start of a new school year comes the overwhelming sea of responsibilities: scheduling activities, organizing homes, getting school supplies, and so much more. The list could go on forever!
With these added expectations, it might feel difficult to keep your head above water. But, if you can only focus on one thing that will lay the groundwork for a successful school year, we suggest communication. To start, establish who you need to communicate with and how best to do so.
Maybe you are starting new relationships (with teachers, for example) or perhaps you are asking pre-existing relationships to yield new things (like a caregiver). Either way, it’s a good idea to step back and consider a few key points so that you can ensure these relationships are successful for the long run:
1. Communicating with your child
How do you think your child will be feeling as they enter the new year? There are two steps that should be followed here: 1. Listen 2. Preemptively validate
If your child is expressing concerns about making new friends, resist your parental instinct to go into problem solving mode, and instead just listen.
Not only will listening give you more information about what is at the heart of their concern, but also it will signal that you are meeting them where they are. When children know you are listening, actually listening to their concerns, they are more likely to talk to you about their troubles.
Then, you can address a concern that you know may be coming down the pike before it arrives. Prime them. For example, your discussion might sound like this:
“You know, I’ve been thinking about the new school year and everything that comes with it, like new friends and new teachers. I was wondering how it’s going to feel to be with new people? That might feel hard, or even a little scary.”
Give some space for them to share if they have something to say. If not, it’s ok because you have now prepared them to acknowledge that feeling if it arrives.
Your children will know that you are connected with the idea that it could be hard. They know that you are someone that understands a bit of what they may be feeling. Even if they haven’t shared anything with you, they will feel a bit more supported, and may therefore handle things better. It’s like co-regulation in advance, or co-regulation from a distance. You are using validation and empathy before they’re even needed and it lets your child know that it’s ok to feel those feelings that are going to crop up.
Listening to your child –– really listening –– and preemptively validating their feelings will lay the groundwork for effective communication for the coming year.
2. Communicating with your child’s teacher and school
Some schools send out a “What do you want us to know about your child?” form or email before the year begins. As a parent, I always appreciate those.
These forms provide a nice place for parents to articulate a few hopes and fears. But, in my experience as an educator, very few teachers actually read these in great detail before getting to know the child themselves. Sure, there may be a particular child they know of that they want to hear more about before day 1, but for the most part, they prefer to get their own read on a child before reviewing these forms and letters.
You may be wondering — what if there is something that you want your teacher to know about your child? Is it too annoying/eager/assertive to be the parent who reaches out before school begins?
It depends on the individual teacher but overall: If it’s medical, a very acute case of social anxiety, or something you think they need to know before the first day (perhaps something bathroom-related), do email them with that information. They will likely thank you and perhaps even ask to speak or meet. But if it’s just to say, “I’d like to be in touch because it’s been a hard summer, my child is behind in academics because of COVID, or my child is generally nervous,” email to say you’d love the chance to chat for ten minutes to introduce yourself at their convenience.
Face-to-face is the best way to chat. Your child’s teacher will likely have a day each week that they reserve to check in with parents. Make time to touch base, establish a nice rapport, and share what it is that you’d like them to know. It may not be the first week or even the second week of school and that’s ok. If it is in fact urgent, and they don’t seem to have the time or they aren’t responsive, check in with the program director or assistant principal to get a read on what they think is appropriate.
3. Communicating with caregivers
Whether it’s a nanny, a mother-in-law, or someone else you trust, the new school year marks a chance to establish fresh habits of communication with caregivers.
A communication plan needs to be mutually agreed upon –– and not a new responsibility foisted on your caregiver –– so that it is mutually beneficial. A communication log-book, for example, will decrease your need to text them to ask what your child ate during their time at home. Or, perhaps, for whatever reason, you sense some mild resentment coming from your caregiver, this would be a good time to say, “I was thinking it might be helpful, as we kick off a new school year, for us both to have some time to check in with each other”.
Remember: if they are a paid employee, the conversation would need to be part of their paid work time. So, you’d need someone to cover childcare while you chat. Maybe you and your spouse can take turns meeting with the caregiver so the other can watch your child. Or maybe just put a movie on in another room. In any case, these conversations shouldn’t happen in front of your child, no matter their age.
Take time to think about what you genuinely feel is going well so you aren’t just showing up with a list of wants and complaints. And be ready to effectively receive input on things that they are unhappy with or would like changed. Remember to leave your swords elsewhere and bring your grownup rational thinking and effective problem-solving skills to the table. You all have your child’s best interest at heart, so working together makes it better for everyone.
Ready for the school year?
By starting the school year with some communication strategies in place, you are laying an important foundation for positive relationships with the people in your day-to-day inner circle and modeling an important life skill for your children. Looking for more advice? Check out our blog to see articles like How to help your child handle disagreements with their friends and How to help your child understand communication.