by Kathryn Streeter
Photo by Cici Loo Photography
With school around the corner, kids may feel varying degrees of uneasiness. The change of environment could bring heightened emotion and perhaps, a temptation to run and hide. For kids to successfully handle the big things in life down the road, they need the tools and encouragement to stand tall and face their fears. The learning needs to start early and happen gradually, so that children can eventually develop the self-reliance and confidence they will need as adults.
Watching Children Deal with Hardship Alone Can Be Challenging for Parents.
Trafton Academy Coach Amy Gillespie tells parents that if their athlete suffers a slump this year and isn’t playing well, they should expect a good coach to bench them. Gillespie, who coaches middle school girls’ volleyball and softball, predicts, “This time in your kid’s life will be incredibly instructive.” She advises parents to challenge their athlete not to buckle with defeat but instead, to hustle. Be the first at practice, the last to leave. Show the coach it doesn’t matter if you’re a starter or coming off the bench, that you love the game and that you’ll do anything for the team. Sports, Gillespie believes, offer many life lessons, and it’s better for parents to seek ways to encourage perseverance, because their child will be a better person on the other side of the struggle.
Gayle Kamen-Weinstein, Director of the Beth Yeshurun Healing Center, created a peer mediation program she conducts at various Houston schools. She urges parents to teach kids responses to hard situations. “One of the key points to dealing with conflicts is to become an active bystander. That means not passively standing by, using a cell phone to record, but to be brave, to step in to help problem solve or seek help from an adult. This strategy empowers kids and gives them skills they can use on a daily basis.” She offered an example, telling how she once sat waiting after school for her daughter. When her daughter finally arrived, breathless and apologetic, she explained that there had been a fight in the hallway and she had run for help.Kamen-Weinstein says, “That is what we can do for children. children. [They must learn] to stand up for themselves and others around them.”
A new learning environment can be more stressful for parents than for children, Matt Evers, owner of two Primrose Schools, acknowledges. Evers tells parents new to the Primrose community, which offers daycare, preschool, before/after-care, Pre-K and Kindergarten classes, that leaving their child behind will be harder on them than the child. While mom and dad may worry all day, the child will dry their tears and start playing with new friends. “From an early age, when a child faces a challenging situation, they are able to begin learning how to cope, adapt and overcome.”
One way Primrose reduces tension and builds a comforting environment for families is by prioritizing a consistent rhythm to each school day. “Our daily routines help to calm fears because the kids know what to expect,” Evers says of his two locations, Atascocita and Crossroads Park. Overall, the schools’ small, kid-friendly scale serves to alleviate a child’s angst. “Just as a child crawls before walking, there’s benefit for a child to ease into the school environment by first experiencing it on a smaller scale,” Evers explains.
It Takes a Village: Lean Into School Administrators and Teachers Committed to Helping Raise Good Kids.
For athletes sitting on the bench, wondering if they’ll ever be good enough to make the starting lineup, Gillespie says it’s her job “to speak words of encouragement, whether it’s you’re younger and now is not quite your time but you’re going to learn so much in practice, or your day will come.”
Evers says that school is often parents’ first experience with completely leaving their child in the hands of others. When parents leave their kids for the day, he says, “We take over, providing guidance and support for their child while they’re at work. That’s our job.”
Clearly, helping a child successfully face challenges starts with parents discerning who to partner with. One young Primrose student who is on the spectrum is described by her mother as facing three challenges she needed help overcoming: “She’s nonverbal. Her social skills are severally lagging, and she has major food aversions.” Her parents felt strongly she would be best helped by integrating with “normal” kids after weighing all the considerations, and enrolled her at Primrose. The results have been rewarding. “My daughter has school friends and can’t wait to get to school each day,” says her mother, adding that her daughter is flourishing through the loving care and structure the school provides, getting further faster than she would have been able to grow at home. “Primrose School has been the best thing that ever happened to us.”
How will your child react when faced with disappointment?
When her team is upset about a bad call, Gillespie tells them life isn’t fair and “they need to learn this to grow up.” Sometimes the bad calls will be in our favor, she reminds them, “so you’re going to respect the referees and umpires, no exceptions.” Gillespie also won’t tolerate players who don’t demonstrate teamwork. Her players know that even the star player will be benched if they aren’t being a good teammate. Gillespie’s tough love demonstrates she cares about their development just as much as winning. “My experience is that athletes learn more from hard losses than from easy wins,” Gillespie says, because tough losses develop character and team attitude.
How will your child react when mom and dad aren’t there to lean on?
The scariest part of school for a child is “being in a room with ten-twenty kids for the first time without their parents to catch them,” says Evers. Primrose may have several teachers in the room, but they aren’t Mom and Dad. The core fear for kids at this age is figuring out who to turn to when their parents are gone. Evers has watched kids face this question and quickly recover.
Overcoming challenges requires resolve, perseverance and teamwork.
For the conference title, Gillespie’s softball team faced an opponent who’d walloped them, 12-2. Against all odds, they pulled off a breathtaking win, surprising everyone–including themselves. “Throughout the game I kept telling them, when you’re facing an opponent that’s bigger and better, if you stay in the game, play smart, work as a team you’ll be hard competitors,” Gillespie recounted.
These words say it all: when kids face a larger-than-life challenge, it’s tremendously helpful for them to learn to persevere, to do their best, and to place their trust in those on their team.
Kathryn Streeter writes for Houston Family Magazine. Find her on Twitter, @streeterkathryn.