The first day of school has happened or is happening soon for children all over the country. My children started school a few days ago. In previous years, my children have been excited about the first day of school, but as they have gotten older, their enthusiasm has waned. Or has it?
At “Back to School” night for parents a few days before school started, I found out pertinent information about each child’s class, including class rosters and special things teachers had planned, as well as expectations for the year. I returned home to two eager children, greeting me at the door with questions about what happened and great interest in what I had found out about their class. They immediately read all the materials I was given from each class, and asked even more questions.
A short while later as I tucked them into bed, I asked them if they were excited about school. My oldest said, “No way. I don’t want to go. It is going to be boring.” My youngest echoed his sentiments, I am thinking because she heard her brother’s comments. Older siblings can be quite influential, at least in our family.
The morning of the first day, they both popped up out of bed, got ready in a flash, and went downstairs to finish packing their lunches. They seemed excited to me. As we ate breakfast, I made a big mistake. I should have let their apparent mood speak for itself, but I didn’t. I asked them what they were looking forward to the most about their first day. “Nothing. Don’t want to go. It is no big deal,” replied my son. His sister echoed his sentiments. After that they both started dragging around, acting like they had lost their best friend. The drive to school didn’t fare much more enthusiasm. I did manage to get a smile out of them both when they posed for their annual first day of school photo as they got out of the car. I also noticed my daughter bouncing into her classroom after she walked a few steps away from our car.
When I picked them up later that day and asked how their first day was, they both replied enthusiastically, “It was great!” Both talked about what they did, things they needed, what they were going to do, etc. We went to a friend’s house right after school to drop something off, and when she asked my son how his first day of school went. “It was okay,” he said with little expression on his face. Later that day we saw a family member, and she also asked how the first day went. “It was boring. Didn’t want to be there,” my son said with even less enthusiasm. Later, another friend asked the same question, to which my son rolled his eyes, and said “terrible.” That night during dinner, my husband asked yet the same question, and the answer was, “Ughh. It was so boring. Wish I didn’t have to go at all.” “Me, too,” replied his faithful sister. I knew that their first response that afternoon had been unfiltered and honest. These other responses were more planned, or so it felt. It became quite comical to anticipate the next level of response, as it became more negative each time the question was posed.
The next day the pattern repeated itself. At the end of the day, I asked myself if it was that they really didn’t like school, or did they (my son in particular) think it wasn’t cool to “like” school anymore, or even act excited about the first day. I decided that it was the latter. There were too many glimmers of enthusiasm for it to be the former. He is at the age where he is more aware of his peers and their opinions. It is becoming even more important to “fit it” with the group. Maybe he thinks if kids admitted they liked school, then they might not be on the “cool” list. I thought back to my school years, and yes, the same thing happened. Even though they don’t act like it, my children want me to ask questions, be enthusiastic and excited for them. I think they feel the same way, even though they don’t always show it.
I decided the best way to handle this day for my children was to not question their responses too much. I also decided to make their first day, as I had always tried to do, a special day. I had a fun activity for them after school (met friends at the pool) and baked cookies for them. I ignored the negative comments, and asked more open-ended questions when they hinted at something positive about their day. That usually got the conversation on a good track, and even opened a door to enthusiasm, if only temporarily.
Since we have entered the years where “fitting in” is more important than ever, I will continue to search for the windows to build on the positive, and listen closely to the comments that might be more discouraging as a mom. I also think it is important to remember that there may be hints of areas to address in those more negative comments, especially at this age. But all in all, I want to always keep in mind that no matter what age my children are, the first day of school, even if they don’t want me to think it is, IS a big deal! Try to make it a special one for your children, and start the year off on a positive note!