Parenting Tools for a New September
Summer is almost over and September is upon us. If we are lucky this should be a wonderful month, especially if there are no COVID surprises in store for us. Back in September 2020 and 2021, when we confronted this unknown new virus, our solution, in addition to the eventual development of vaccines, was caution and adhering to full lockdown guidelines: staying home, working from home, studying from home, and socializing from home. The results were not all positive; many stuck at home drank more alcohol, smoked more and exercised less. We withdrew from active sports and hobbies. The economy struggled and domestic violence increased. Human contact was virtually eliminated and many of us felt isolated and forlorn. This new reality brought with it different feelings from anything we had ever experienced. Sure, as adults we have all had ups and downs, but never anything as unique, unknown and strange as a pandemic. Did we pass our fears and anxieties of the unknown to our kids despite our best intentions? Of course we did. Despite our best parenting, fear was unavoidable, but this September, we can course correct.
Reducing School Anxiety
This month we are less restricted than we have been and it is finally a welcome time for change. But let us remember that the two years of lockdown not only disrupted and permanently altered our lives, it had a profound effect on the lives of our babies, children, teenagers, college bound students and recent graduates. Babies and toddlers could not see smiles on faces covered by masks which certainly had an effect on their developing brains. Young children did not attend school and regardless of all the education offered on zoom, the UN reports that 100 million more children lack basic reading skills due to these measures taken during the pandemic. Teenagers connected only through social media which had an adverse effect on their mental health, and college students studied in isolation and missed the opportunity to socialize, an integral part of the American college experience. Recent graduates lucky enough to find employment, had to start work from home losing out on mentorship and office culture and connections.
Now the moment has come to develop once again good personal habits and work on reducing our own anxieties and help our children with theirs. September is a transitional month and transitions bring anxiety. As adults, we must set a good example for our families and not expect too much from ourselves or our children. Try not to overcommit; instead, try to stop and smell the roses. Babies and toddlers are once again engaging with the world around them. Children and teenagers are back in school busy with purposeful routines, fun activities, and sports. College students are back to in person classes. Millennials are once again commingling and are trying to resume normal life despite having lost so much time.
It is imperative to have good communication with your child no matter their age so that the physical return to school, work, and life is a successful process. Communication is defined as an exchange of information. What does good communication really mean? The key word is “exchange”. Children innately take cues from parents. It is a two way street that is attuned to your child’s feelings, opinions, and needs without judgment or criticism. It is the art of truly listening to them and their worries. True listening contrasts with helicopter parenting or snowplow parenting which are strictly one way, and indicates to your child that you know better and are so worried about their judgment and capabilities that you have to hover over them, remove every obstacle in their way, and perform the tasks for them. These piloting parents with the best intentions, and with a desire to guide and prevent mistakes, inadvertently also remove the opportunity for their child to develop the skills to cope and problem solve before they leave the nest. If they don’t have the opportunity to make mistakes and course correct while living under your roof, how can they do it once they leave?
This holds especially true if you have a child that is leaving home and going away to college. And if you are the parent of a departing child, you may also suffer from separation anxiety yourself that may push you to track your child’s schedule and whereabouts continuously. You may want to choose their classes, have influence on their major and choose their friends. I have two words for you – remind yourself to “back off”. This is not helpful to you or your child and may backfire by increasing anxiety for both of you in the long run, albeit assuaging your anxiety in the short term. You may become hyper focused on their whereabouts and not accept that this is their unique opportunity to start their journey to adulting. If not now, then when? You imparted your values over the last 18 years. I promise they have internalized your voice but it is now time for them to make their own choices and their own mistakes. That is the basis for adulthood.
As we recover from the stress, anxiety and difficulties of the last two years, we must understand that not all stress is bad. Sometimes it can bring about useful changes in your life, changes that we really need. Parents must be ready to make good choices and get ready for the changes that will make you and your children stronger, healthier and happier. So, this September, consider all the good things that you can look forward to…and if you need help navigating, speak to a therapist or other trusted confidant who can help you evaluate what’s going on and open your eyes to other roads not yet taken.