Beginning with the End

 Sara Schwartz-Gluck, LCSW and Jonathan Cohen, PsyD

The end of the school year is an opportunity to put the stepping-stones in place for future success. Before rushing into summertime and enjoying the pool, flip-flops, and sunshine, let’s take a moment to talk about maximizing our children’s growth at this juncture.

We have had opportunity to work with many teachers over the course of the past few months as we collaborated to create success plans for students in their classrooms. One thing we’ve noticed across the board is that teachers have a unique perspective regarding children; this perspective is different from one that a parent, friend or therapist would have regarding the same child. Teachers get to spend the best hours of the child’s day with him or her. Teachers see how children interact not only with friends, but with adults and authority figures as well. Teachers get to see what happens when a child feels unsuccessful and has a hard time mastering academic material. They get to watch as their students are faced with challenging situations both in and out of the classroom. Each teacher that we’ve spoken with has given us a wealth of insight on how their student functions, what his or her greatest challenges are, and what the child needs in order to succeed.

On the flipside, what we’ve noticed is that teachers don’t always communicate this information to parents. Sometimes the first time that parents hear of their child’s problem is after the problem has escalated to a crisis. Sometimes, teachers are hesitant to be completely honest with parents because they get negative reactions from those parents. There are many reasons for this. When our children are struggling, we may think it’s because the teacher is in the wrong, or that the teacher has not been interacting with the children in an effective way. Hearing about our children’s problems may bring up feelings of guilt, worry, and most of all -fear. Fear for our children’s future. Fear that if what the teacher saying is in fact true, our child is heading toward an uphill battle for the remainder of his or her school years. However, when we have those reactions while speaking to teachers this discourages them sharing vital information with us about our children. Information that can help us ensure that our child doesn’t meet the same challenges again when he or she enters the new classroom for the first day in August.

Having an open, honest, end-of-year phone conversation with your child’s teacher is always a good idea, but is especially vital if your child struggled at school. Here are some tips for talking to teachers:

  1. Remember that children have academic and social struggles for a multitude of reasons, most of the time it is NOT your fault.
  2. Remember that whether or not you agree with this teacher’s specific teaching methods, he or she is the one that holds the key to a lot of information that can help your child. As much as you can, try to be open to what the teacher has to say.
  3. Ask the teacher what areas your child needs to improve in order to be successful next school year. Ask for specific examples of things your child struggled with.

After the Final Bell
During the summer, children are often more relaxed. They don’t have to face the daily stressors of homework, tests, and hours of sitting at a desk. They get to exert more physical energy and soak up more sun. This sets the stage for growth and change. When children are feeling calm and happy, they may be more open to learning new skills and becoming more self-aware. In the words of a local school principal, “At the beginning of the school year, we can clearly see which children used the summer to grow and became more emotionally mature. They come back as different people.”

Self-Awareness is the foundation of emotional maturity. Children who are self aware can identify how they are feeling, what they are thinking, and what they need to do in order to cope. For example: Shmuel comes home from camp in a restless state. He runs around the house bumping into his siblings, and throws his snack onto the ground. He feels frustrated but he doesn’t even know why.

There are some simple awareness-building questions you can ask your child when s/he gets home each day.

  • Physical Awareness: Do you need a drink? Do you need to use the bathroom? Is anything hurting you?
  • Emotional Awareness: What is one good thing that happened today? What is one bad thing that happened today? How did you feel when those things happened?
  • Cognitive Awareness: What were you saying to yourself when those (good or bad) things happened?

Shmuel’s mother asks him the above questions. Shmuel realizes that he didn’t have a water bottle today, and he is so thirsty. After having taken a long drink, he is able to calm down enough to say,”Mordy made fun of me on the bus. He said I’m such a baby.” Having taking a moment to self-reflect, he can now begin to deal with his actual problems- being dehydrated and feeling hurt.

Self-awareness is the difference between running around the house starting fights with siblings, and calmly talking about why feelings of frustration are there. When children develop the ability to look within and express themselves, they have taken the first step toward managing their feelings on their own.

Stay tuned for our summer series, during which we will address ways to help your child develop social and organizational skills, as well as tips for transitioning children from Pre-K through high school.

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