The kids are all back at school, some will have just started, or moved to a new one, and parents all over the land will be worrying about them settling in OK. When you’re a parent there’s always something new to be worrying about, especially with your first child when everything is a first time and you haven’t yet had the practice in taking deep breaths and letting things go.
I think when your kids are older and you look back, the question you ask yourself is not so much ‘why didn’t I appreciate them enough when they were little?’ as ‘why did I waste all that time worrying about them?’
Perhaps worrying has its place, it may motivate us to make an effort, but the problem is it tends to hang around far too long and outstay its welcome. It’s a feeling that demands a lot of control and management, otherwise it communicates to the child and makes them worried too.
For parents of little children especially, I think worrying about how they’re getting on at school is largely due to the fact that we’re not there to see what’s happening, so we can very easily imagine the worst. It’s illogical really, when you think about it: why would your particular child be the one who is having the worst experience or be the least able to cope? Out of all the children in the world?
If your child is very sensitive, or awkward, or unsociable, it may take them longer to settle in and find their way, but in the general scheme of things most of them do. That’s what school is for, it’s the start of their journey of adaptation to new environments, and the best gift we can give them is our confidence that they’ll manage it.
To all the worrying parents out there, my advice is to develop and stick to a balance of empathy and authority. You don’t have to be one of the extremes: either the parent who spends ages comforting a child outside the school gates every morning, or the parent who barks ‘don’t be silly! You’ll enjoy it once you’re there!’ and marches a child in.
The language of empathy is accepting and acknowledging, it doesn’t try to fix or change a child. The empathetic tone of voice is not anxious or pitying. It’s responses like:
The language of authority is clear, calm and confident, it shares simple information and it doesn’t apologise, request or justify – even in its tone of voice:
‘We’ll go in now.’
‘We’ll go and say hello to your teacher.’
‘I’ll leave now and I’ll see you at lunchtime.’
Stick to a combination of empathy and authority and the underlying message your child gets is one of trust. This approach says: ‘I understand you’re feeling scared but I’m confident you’ll be OK anyway,’ whereas if we said those actual words, our child’s response would likely be ‘No you don’t, and no I won’t.’ The message has to come from the way we treat our child and our attitude; it’s always the sub-text of our messages that a child picks up.
It’s that confidence in your child’s ability to cope which she will internalise, so that she will begin to see herself as someone who can – in the words of the book – ‘feel the fear and do it anyway.’
You can always do all your worrying on the way home.