Hacham Yom Tov Yedid Last Chief Rabbi of Halab
By: Ellen Kamaras
As parents, we know that back-to-school is not only about school supplies, backpacks, new clothes, and shoes. It’s also about starting off the year on the right foot.
Before you push the panic button, I invite you Moms and Dads to take a fresh look at this year’s back-to-school (BTS) process. Here are some tools to help you partner with your children to bring in the school year with positive energy instead of anxiety and dread.
As a life and organizational coach, I sincerely believe in the power of positive thinking. Research has shown that adopting positive attitudes and shifting from a negative mindset to a positive one can increase one’s overall happiness, health, success, and wealth.
We Jews have been practicing positive thinking and expressing gratitude for thousands of years. At least twice a week, I see an article about the benefits of gratitude and being positive. Expressing gratitude helps people replace negative thoughts with positive ones. For example, a popular life tool is to list five new things for which you are grateful each morning when you wake up. Well, isn’t that the first thing we Jews do when we wake up? We declare, “Modeh ani,” thanking Gd for the great gift of life even before we get out of bed.
Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Lubavitch taught about the vital importance of positive thinking, saying, “Tracht gut, vet zein gut – Think good, and it will be good.”
So why not put a positive spin on this year’s BTS process? Yes, the thought of the new school year can arouse fear and even physical symptoms of anxiety in children, parents, and teachers. However, human beings are wired to be able to shift and change, and so with the appropriate preparation and tools, we can turn the BTS process into a positive, energizing, rewarding, successful and, yes, even fun experience for the entire family.
Here are three strategies to help parents jumpstart a positive and invigorating BTS process and chase away those “BTS blues.”
First and foremost, please be prepared!
Preparation is the key to success in all walks of life. As Benjamin Franklin said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
When it comes to the BTS process, being prepared enables you to be confident and secure, so you can serve as a positive role model for your children.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be calm and confident on the first day of school? It would send a powerful, positive message to your children. If you are calm, confident, and energetic, those emotions will be picked up by your children. Conversely, if you are anxious, irritable, and negative, your children will sense these feelings and act in the same fashion. Modeling behaviors is crucial in shaping our children’s values and middot (character). If we don’t keep our cool, display positivity and act with derech eretz (courtesy), then how can we expect our children to do so?
It’s not too late to take out that yellow pad and get prepared. Even if this is not your first time going through the BTS process, making a list is still a good idea, as it will help you focus, plan and move forward.
My first career was as a CPA/Auditor, and the most valuable tool I took away from that experience was a daily to-do list. Fast forward 30+ years – I still start my day with a list.
But, as my business coach recently recommended, we need to be strategic in planning our day’s activities. First, we must ensure that each listed task is purposeful and a priority. Secondly, we must remember to mark tasks as completed and update the list as needed. Another way I try to keep my list strategic is by placing a post-it pad on my nightstand so I can jot down an important task or solution to a problem that I worked out in my sleep.
There is always a new factor in the BTS equation – a new job or schedule for Mom or Dad, a new school for one of the children, a new babysitter or housekeeper to train, new carpool partners or bus schedules, etc. These will, of course, necessitate adding to or modifying your list. For example, I always kept my boss in the loop about early dismissals for my younger kids during the first week of school.
If you are tech savvy, you can use apps such as Things orEvernote which allow you to make lists, schedule tasks, set up reminders, and email and share lists. They also sync up on all your devices.
TEAM WORK – Enlist and Engage
This step works hand-in-hand with preparation.
Enlist and engage your children in the BTS process. Aren’t they equal and joint owners of the process? Taking ownership will enable your children to be more invested and successful in the process and have “skin in the game.” Haim Ginott, a clinical psychologist and parent educator, said, “Treat a child as though he already is the person he’s capable of becoming,” and, “Only if a child feels right can he think right.”
Why not start with a family meeting? Invite your children to brainstorm with you and listen and acknowledge their ideas. Involving them in the decision-making process helps build their self-esteem and teaches them about ownership, responsibility, independence, compromise, and resolution conflict.
Don’t forget to include refreshments and to set some ground rules, such as, allow everyone to be heard, and no name-calling or
put-downs. You might want to use a fun venue – like a grassy picnic area – and assign tasks to your children to gather the supplies and snacks for the meeting.
Another perk of the family meeting is that your children will learn how to function as a team member and how to collaborate – a skill that will help them in school, sports, work and all relationships.
And Dads, we need your help – you are key partners in the process and bring lots of added value to meetings.
VIEW THE GLASS AS HALF-FULL
Now that you have prepared for the new school year and engaged your children in the process, the third and final step to jumpstarting your fresh approach to the BTS process is to view it through a new and enhanced lens – and, of course, to share that view with your children.
Can you focus forward and view the new school year – the new principals, new classmates, new friends, and new subject matter –
in a positive light, as an occasion laden with new opportunities? Can you communicate and share the positive and exciting aspects of the new school year with your children? Or, even better, can you encourage your children to share with you what is fun and positive about going back to school and what gives them the jitters?
A positive outlook can be contagious, so be positive, and this attitude will rub off on your children.
Research has shown that viewing the glass half full makes one happier and more cheerful, and that optimism leads to opportunity and change.
Change can be scary, but also exciting. As Gail Sheehy says, “If we don’t change, we don’t grow.”
As mentioned earlier, we human beings have the ability to change our thinking, “get unstuck” and create new “wiring.” The belief that the adult brain is static and hardwired has been replaced by the idea of a dynamic and changing brain, a theory known as neuroplasticity, which refers to the brain’s ability to rewire itself and form new neural connections. This means that the brain is resilient. We can learn to play a new instrument, master a new language, recover from a stroke and much more, even as adults, through repetition which reinforces the new behavior, attitude or information.
According to Debbie Hampton, a brain health educator, we can all access the power of Neuroplasticity to make positive changes in our lives. We do this by replacing negative thoughts and attitudes with positive ones.
Amy Marzluff, a holistic health coach, recently introduced me to the “adding in to crowd out” method of helping us to increase our positive outlook. When applied to food, “crowding out” means eating healthy greens first before eating other,
less-healthful foods. When applied to life, it’s about adding positive things, practices and people to your life to crowd out the negative thoughts, habits and relationships. If you keep adding positive things, the negative things fall away.
How does this relate to the BTS process? It is about parents modeling a positive attitude about the new school year. It means encouraging your children to have a positive attitude even when bad stuff is happening. If your daughter is having a problem getting along with her classmate or friend, consider asking her if she can turn it into an actionable question, such as, “How can I get along better with my classmate?” This doesn’t mean you ignore your children’s concerns. Continue practicing active listening with your children and validate their feelings. But alongside listening and validation, you can help you child “crowd out” negative feelings by adding large doses of positivity and optimism, which will lead to positive thinking and a healthy attitude about school and about life generally. The more we fill our children’s lives with positive “stuff,” the less room there will be for all the negative “stuff,” resulting in a happier and more enjoyable back-to-school experience for both children and parents.
Please share your questions/feedback with Ellen at