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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Kay

What can I learn? How can I help?

"Be kind, be good, be wise, I love you!". Two children, 194 school days each year, nearing 10 years. That statement has been expressed about 3880 times over the course of my children's academic careers so far. It's a simple statement covering all the bases and accompanying a daily hug, because hugs are important for children. For me. For all of us.

This simple statement seemed to do the trick until a couple of years ago, when one of our sons began to communicate how much he despised school. For him, navigating school is no small feat. Some children have an easier time accomplishing the expectations of school, and many others find this a weighty burden to bear. My son is not alone, not by a long shot. Maybe you know someone struggling with school, too.

As years have passed we have remained alert and observant. I often find myself wearing my "Mama Bear" hat fastened tightly to my "Calm" hat, while also sporting the "Detective" hat. Is he being bullied? Does something seem unsafe to him? What is his experience with his teacher? Is he feeling accepted by kind friends? Does he understand the work? As parents we do well to be curious about these things. It's not our job to solve the problems for our children as they age, but it is our job to teach and encourage skills to help them maneuver the problem themselves. If you have addressed the issues of safety and academic understanding but still have a child who detests school, you're not alone. We're still on this journey, too, but as parents we can equip each other by sharing strategies that have been helpful along the way.

The Roll-you-out-of-bed Game. Employed on the 2- or 3- days per week when even getting up in the morning feels like an insurmountable obstacle, this game is accompanied by a silly song, laughter, and smiles (from the one causing the rolling), even though it is often met with grunts of protest from the preteen being rolled out of bed. The game can become exhausting, but burdens are easier to bear with a smile and a silly song. The feedback from this ritual may be less enthusiastic as the children age, but remain confident that somehow the lessons learned will endure and enrich their future. It's worth the effort now.

Encourage a growth mindset by asking, "What can I learn?". Saying this aloud primes the brain to notice new things and can be an antidote for boredom. Learning one thing is a success, though even better is to to aim for one thing per subject/class. At the end of the day, one jelly bean can be earned for each thing that has been learned. Eat them right away or save them to trade in for a bigger reward later and reinforce delayed gratification (one jar of earned beans equals one trip out for ice cream sundaes, trip to somewhere fun, special nighttime walk, whatever feels motivating).

Empower empathy and purpose by asking, "How can I help?". Acknowledging our emotions is important, and so is being able to consider another perspective and get unstuck from a place of despair. Finding a small way to care for another's needs goes beyond our focus on self into the higher and more holistic level of human existence, which Maslow's hierarchy of needs defines as "self-transcendence". "How can I help?" provides opportunity for empathy, belonging, confidence building, and purpose.

Realize, Recognize, Reward with Rest and Rejuvenation. Children are expected to attend school. It is a responsibility, but we do well to realize the weight that this burden can feel like for them. Even if the day begins with complaining, or if they trudge their way to school, recognize the effort that they made, big or small. Acknowledging a 50% effort will encourage continued and improved effort. Reward with something that brings rest and rejuvenation, like watching a show together and talking about it, reading together, a favourite nourishing meal, or something else that revives their mind, body, and spirit.

The easiest things to remember are simple and practiced, and in teaching others the concepts are reinforced for the educator as well as for the student. I am so grateful to realize that I learn more as a parent than in any other role I have held. Children require of us, teach us, and inspire us, so in equipping our children to be curious and kind, we remind ourselves to be likewise. As I ask myself, "What can I learn?" I find myself discovering intriguing things and becoming excited about the possibilities of today. As I ask myself, "How can I help?" I learn new skills and hopefully walk alongside someone, helping to bear their burden for a few steps along our respective journeys. It just makes the day better. The jelly beans and ice cream sundaes are pretty good, too.

For an opportunity to ready and rejuvenate, join us on the First Sunday of each month for a free-flowing dance and movement event in Milton. LIBERTY Pursuits presents AWAKEN on SUNDAY JANUARY 1st, 7:30 - 8:45pm, Milton, Ontario. Start the year with intention, movement, and purpose! Get grounded and inhale an energizing breath for the week and month ahead!

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