“I’m feeling anxious about the changes I am currently experiencing and/or anticipating. Your patience is appreciated.”
It’s mid-August, and everywhere we look, these three little words - back to school - scream at us, inspiring a range of emotion from Christmas Day Anticipation to Root Canal Dread.
Teachers will not turn on their televisions, look at newspaper flyers or listen to the radio. They avert their eyes when they see billboards or bus panels. They stick their fingers in their ears and sing la-la-la at the top of their lungs if they hear the S-word. They avoid Staples and Wal-Mart. Social Media is a mine field. Teachers are running around frantically trying to finish (or start) all the things they wanted to do with their glorious summer. When they tire from the running in circles, they lay in the hammock pretending they are not laying out lesson plans in their heads.
Meanwhile, parents are studying their hand-made calendars of August with an interesting tingling sensation. While the bright paper is scuffed, spilled-on, and dog-eared, it is still legible. The kids’ activities are strategically placed every few days to keep time moving quickly. The most prominent feature of this calendar is the Countdown. Parents are planning The Shopping Day. They have a nearly illegible list that spent the summer in the couch cushions, and they are trying to figure out how many colours are necessary in a crayon pack. Eight? Twelve? Twenty? Are there actually 64 different colours??
They may also have re-negotiated their mortgage to finance The Shopping Day.
They are already making fall survival plans with other parents. Most plans include alcohol. They think of their child’s teacher with a strange combination of loathing and longing.
The kids are vacillating wildly between a desperate need to get in as much fun as possible, and complete boredom. They are over-stimulated and over-tired. They are sick of summer and want to go back to school tomorrow. They don’t want the summer to end, ever. They miss their friends. They are so sick of their friends. They have stuff to do. They don’t want to do anything. They are still planning to get in shape this summer. They just spent their allowance on a box of fudgesicles.
Some people in this scenario have a vague idea of what September will look like. Some have no idea. New school. New class. New kids. New teacher. The fall transition is stressful for everyone. There are certainly ways to ease the transition – talking about it, most importantly – and beginning to shift routines gradually. But most of all, being gentle with each other.
Managing our own feelings and stresses as the adults is enough of a job. But understanding that your child or student is acting out because of transition stress, takes real concentration and compassion. Children rarely say, “I’m feeling anxious about the changes I am currently experiencing and/or anticipating.”
But that is probably exactly what they mean with every outburst, tantrum, and rude rejoinder. That’s always the trick: seeing beyond the behavior to the feelings that are fueling it. We all try to do this consistently as parents and as educators, and we all fail. So, we say sorry when necessary and we try again. Be gentle with each other. Be especially gentle with yourself. Have a great autumn, everyone.