As kids head back to school, families want to set their children up for success. If you want to help your kid have a productive school year, try teaching some of these resilience lessons. Each one will help make your child more capable of navigating school year stressors.
Everything is Hard the First Time
School isn’t meant to be easy. If you knew everything already, you wouldn’t need to go to school! Learning something you don’t already know how to do is the whole point of an education. But for lots of kids, if something is difficult, they interpret that difficulty to mean they must not be good at that task, or they must be stupid.
There’s an emerging school of thought called “growth mindset,” which focuses on our capacity to learn and grow. Often in our society, we praise children for their innate gifts and skills, saying “oh, you’re just so smart!” “you’re a good artist!” When that happens, we accidentally deliver the message that a child’s success is because they’re naturally good at something. Children are then at risk of developing a “fixed mindset”, which is the opposite of a growth mindset, and tells them that their skills and talents are fixed and can’t be changed. Help your child develop a growth mindset by encouraging work that is just beyond their current abilities, showing them a path to solve the problem, and then praising them for the effort they exerted, showing them how that effort got them the outcome they wanted.
Your Teacher Didn’t GIVE You a Grade
Has your child come home and said “my teacher gave me a C on my project! I don’t know why!”? That’s language you want to catch and correct. Saying “my teacher gave me thus-and-such grade” isn’t usually accurate. Except in the rare case of a disconnected or vindictive teacher, your child most likely earned that grade. When a child phrases their grades in a way that places responsibility on the teacher instead of themselves, you’re seeing something called “external locus of control.”
People can exhibit either an internal locus of control or an external locus of control. People with an internal locus of control believe that they have some measure of control over the outcomes in their lives, and they take responsibility for doing their part. People with an external locus of control think that what happens to them is out of their hands: it’s all because of luck, fate, their boss, their mom. Listen to how your children talk about their grades, because it may be the first time you hear whether your child is prone to an internal or external locus of control, and you can help guide them to take more responsibility for what happens in their lives.
Bullying isn’t the Same as Not Being BFFs
For very good reasons, schools and communities are now intervening much earlier and more seriously when it comes to bullying. Childhood bullying can cause long-term stress that even carries into adulthood, and the growing awareness of bullying is a great thing that protects vulnerable children.
But there’s one unintended downside to the rise in awareness against bullying. As children are being taught not to bully, their developing brains aren’t great at understanding what bullying really is. To a 5 year old, anyone doing something that makes them feel sad or angry feels like a bully. So saying “no, I’m not going to give you my favorite doll,” could be bullying to a 5 year old. We know better, as adults, but kids can’t always see the difference.
It’s important to help your kids navigate a world where everybody doesn’t want to be their friend. Your 9 year old may want to be friends with somebody who doesn’t want to be friends back. And it doesn’t necessarily make the other kid mean. It’s just a fact of life that we all prefer some people over others, and children are no different. So at home, if you hear about meanness or bullying, try to really tease out the actions that took place, before you get upset. (Because if you get upset, your kid will get even more upset!) Their teenage and young adult years will be filled with change friend-circles and romantic rejection, so this is great practice for what lies ahead.
Help your child develop more resilience by repeating these three mantras whenever they need a little nudge back on track. School-year stress is a real thing, but with a little guidance from you, your kid can grow into a hard-worker and a self-starting student!