Her eyes widen and her jaw drops as she steps through the gate and takes in the new courtyard, the new building, and all the new people who swirl past her. She exhales a long, low syllable of wonder and spins slowly in place. “Wow… is this our school?”
A few feet away, a little boy bursts into tears and clings to his mother’s leg. As I walk further into the heart of campus I see middle schoolers high fiving and squealing at each other, fourth graders pulling each other towards the back lot for a quick game of basketball, and second graders smiling bashfully as they sidle up next to last year’s teachers for a hug or a smile.
The new year always brings a lot of changes, but this year is particularly momentous with our dramatic unveiling of the new U-Wing and all the new routines that accompany a rapidly growing community. Each child has his/her own way of metabolizing change, and we can make use of these back-to-school teachable moments to plant the seeds of resilience in them.
This is a good time to return to rituals that may have been displaced by the casual pace of summer. Some families like to share a “rose and a thorn” at the dinner table to explore the good and the hard parts of each day with each other. You can also extend this metaphor by sharing a weed (part of the day that was “meh”) or a bouquet (giving an imaginary bouquet to someone you appreciate) to get beyond the dichotomy of good and bad.
Families with preschool and young elementary age children often create leave-taking rituals that soften the sharp pains of separation. Parents might read The Kissing Hand and then draw a heart on their child’s hand to remind them that they carry love with them wherever they go, or they might tuck family photos and loveys into backpacks for moral support.
All students benefit from opportunities to unload their “backpack of feelings” at the end of the day and to decompress from the rigors of navigating their new world. It is best to plan to do as little as possible after school and on the weekends throughout September to give your children a chance to catch their breath and process all of the new experiences they encounter each day. Don’t be alarmed if your child is unusually moody or reactive at pickup -- they are working hard to hold it together at school and you are a safe harbor for the darker feelings that bubble up throughout the day. It’s wise to greet them with a snack, a hug, and a listening ear.