“Smile for the camera,” is how many of us begin our school year. We stand there, in our brand new clothes, a cute hair cut, the same shoes that all our classmates will have, and mom takes a photo. Some of us will hold up a card for the photo that says ”third grade” so that in years to come, it will be easy to see what you looked like on the first day of every grade. After the mandatory photo (how else can grandma know what you look like on the first day of third grade?), there’s a rush to get into the car, drive to school, find parking, walk to the classroom and see who’s in your class.
While we get caught up in getting our kids prepared and off to the best start to the year ever, as parents we often fail to remember how anxious we were on the first day of school. What if the clothes we wore were not what everyone else was wearing? What if my classmates thought my shoes were dorky? Was my Batman backpack too babyish for third grade? Who would be in my class? Would Emily be my friend this year or would she choose to ignore me? Did Sarah have a back-to-school party and not invite me? If so, would the popular kids be talking about it in front of me, so that I felt bad about myself? If that’s not bad enough, we also worried about our ability to manage the academic rigor of the new grade. Would the math be very difficult? Would Dad be mad if my grades slipped. My art was on display last year and my parents were so proud of me, what if it’s not that good this year?
Wow!!! That’s a lot of anxiety for any human, let alone a little person, to deal with. As parents we need to step back and not rush our children. Is that last-minute photo so important? Does it really matter to us if our kids choose to wear their clothes from last year, that they are comfortable in? Do they know that we will support and be proud of them no matter what their grades are? That we will love them regardless of who their friends are?
Sometimes, it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new beginning. Let’s take time out to ensure that our children are willing and prepared for the new beginning and to support them through the tougher or more anxiety producing times. Of course, this will be the best year ever, but taking a few extra minutes for a hug, a reminder of how much we love them, rather than that rushed last-minute photo, will go a long way to set them up for success.
Sue Penn, the Director of Congregational Learning at University Synagogue, is known for being an innovative and creative educator. Sue sits on the Board of Directors for JFFSOC and Someone Cares.