I've been thinking about the transition into the new school year a lot-- maybe you have, too. We begin the school year in September much like January 1, with resolutions and systems in place to support our "best year ever". We plan and prepare, we buy the supplies and the gear, and we coordinate calendars, schedules, and the casts of thousands required to make our households run. We are ready.
But there are generally more than a couple of variables at play when it comes to the reality of our lives and living out this well-prepared and error-free fresh start, among them: 1.conflicting expectations/ hopes and dreams for different members of the family (FEELINGS) and 2. a culture that isn't really set up to support ALL families.
What happens when our best laid plans to get everyone out the door on time blow up because someone wants a chocolate chip cookie NOW(!)? Or when the institutions we are connected with for school or for work limit our ability to be flexible when we are running late or our kids are sick?
One of the truly magnificent features of working in early education is observing the ways in which we adults are more similar to, than different from, our young children. None of us do very well if we do not have the coping skills set up to navigate the curve balls that life may throw our way. Research in early education and human development indicates now that the development of character skills and a growth mindset (soft skills/non-cognitive skills/emotional intelligence) in early life contribute to some pretty radical life-long positive outcomes like: improved academic and career success, improved relationship success, improved physical and mental health, and general self-satisfaction/happiness. Many of you are aware of this fact and have likely watched the Angela Lee Duckworth TED talk on grit. The question and point of reflection for us as parents: do we model the behavior that we expect from our children? Do we have the emotional intelligence and coping ourselves to be flexible, socially-aware, resilient, kind, and persistent? And, if the answer is no, what do have to learn from watching our young children struggle through disappointments and a busy life and schedule in a world that really isn't set up to support them either?
The good news is that early childhood is not the end of the line for the opportunity to develop character skills. We, as grown-ups, can become more self-aware and develop our soft skill set. We can observe our responses to challenging features of our days and reflect on why we react in anger, frustration, criticism, or defeat. We can marvel at the inherent resiliency and flexibility in our children and learn from their adaptability. If we spot the behavior in our child and it really pushes our buttons, chances are good that the behavior they are displaying is a growth area for us. And when we model a new, authentic approach to navigating disappointment, change, or other transitions, our little learners soak it all in.
What about that second variable? The culture that doesn't support the needs of all families? Well, there we have some long-term work to do. We must advocate for policies in our institutions and workplaces that give us the necessary flexibility to juggle all of the needs of our families and balance the demands of our jobs and work. Using our developing character skills (like social awareness, kindness, and persistence), we may be able to create change in our environments and inspire others around us to do the same. But beginning in our own homes and families is a great place to start. Setting up family routines and expectations with predictable consequences or outcomes does a little brain good (we all like to know what to expect!). And including our kids in some family decision-making, can help them to feel empowered and valued in the family structure.
Sometimes change can occur with a simple mindshift like: what do have to learn from our children? instead of: what do we have to teach our children?