As my children head back to school this year, I admit that I’m not completely focused on their education.
I want them to learn, of course and in many ways, I feel extremely lucky to have children who genuinely enjoy going to school. The homework battles have not yet been an issue in our home (knock on wood), and for the most part, they are engaged at school.
I’ve wrestled back and forth with the decision to send my children to school or to homeschool them myself, but ultimately my husband and I felt that school was the best choice for them. As someone who grew up bouncing from school to school, both private and public and even helping my sister homeschool for a spell, I’m well aware that there is so much more to school than learning subtraction.
So I hope my own children can learn some valuable life lessons at school, whether it’s in the classroom or in the lunchroom, that will take them beyond the graduation stage (where, full disclosure, I will be probably be crying… ).
1. Be the one to say “hello” first
Important life lesson from this old fogey: You know that feeling when you’re wondering if someone secretly hates you/is judging you/hates your outfit? The majority of the time, they are thinking the exact same thing as you. We are all self-centered, and most people are too busy thinking about themselves to worry about your outfit, so this is a lesson best learned early — be the one to say “hi” first and you’ll be amazed at how easy it can be to make friends.
This school year, I want to encourage my kids to be the ones to say “hi” to that person in the hallway instead of spending all of their energy wondering if that person is silently judging them. The ability to focus on other people is a great start into the adult world of playing nice to other adults. Everyone loves to talk about themselves, cough, cough.
2. But bullies are real
Unfortunately, bullies do exist, and they exist everywhere. Beyond seeing that many bullies have a lot of issues that they are dealing with and that they try to dull their own pain by hurting others, I hope my kids can learn how to cope in life with bullies, even if their first taste of the bullying world is at school. (Obviously, I hope it’s not and I’m 100% in support of ending bullying.)
Because even as an adult, I’ve encountered bullying in the workplace to the point where I felt I had no other options than to leave a job. It’s impossible not to be affected, emotionally and otherwise, by bullies and people who work to bring you down, but it’s also impossible to pretend bullying doesn’t exist.
I guess the key is to acknowledge that bullies exist; that sometimes you can’t change other people, but you also can’t change yourself, and some of us are keenly affected by the negativity of others, so instead, focus on what you can change. At school, that might mean talking to a classmate who is also being bullied or to a teacher about changing classes, for example; while in the adult world, it may mean making a career move or learning to confront inappropriate behavior. The important lesson I want my kids to learn is that bullies exist, but they can be bigger than bullying.
3. Finding your tribe is important
Everyone needs a “tribe” to make it through life in one piece, or many different-colored pieces. And if you can’t find your tribe, make one. Try clubs, communities or sports; but whatever way you choose, get involved and put yourself out there.
4. Respecting your elders is a real thing
I won’t go so far to demand that my children respect every adult in the entire world because some adults are total tools, but I will say that respect is an important tool too. You will get a lot more of what you want in life if you learn how to talk respectfully and kindly to people, even when they’re being jerks to you. My rule? Start with respect for those teachers around you, and you’ll learn how to respect role models and authority figures first — you can always go back if they turn out to be not worthy of your respect, but you can’t build that relationship up again like you could from the start.
More: Teachers deserve a lot more respect and not just on National Teacher Day
5. Everyone needs to unplug
My husband is a middle school teacher, and he has often commented how hard it is for kids these days because they simply can’t escape the bubble of school, even when they go home. The pressures, the bullies and the peer pressure follow them home on their phones. I hope my kids can learn that the “online world” is not real life, and that we can take the good parts and literally shut down the bad ones and get back to real living. When they come home from school, it’s a family-wide effort to shut down, unplug and connect — with each other, not our phones.