SUMMER 2019 The Summer of Torah, Hesed, and Charity

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By: Ellen Geller Kamaras

As a teenager, as I walked out of my yeshiva building in June, I looked forward to having two glorious months off from school. September seemed very far away. But now it is right around the corner.

How can we prepare and motivate our children and ourselves as parents to be excited about September and the beginning of the new school year when summer’s through?

The Parents’ Role

That’s right. Parents are key players and participants in the Back to School (BTS) process. After all, we too have the summer off from school. No checking homework, no carpools, no running to the store for supplies for a school project andno parent-teacher conferences.

Moms and dads also have to get revved up for the coming school year.

Let’s take a fresh look at the coming year rather than going through the motions of wash, rinse, and repeat.

Can you think of the BTS process as a balancing act? Is our goal to inspire our children and encourage them to learn, but avoid putting undue pressure on them to be superstars?

Parents and educators have expressed concerns that we are no longer allowing our kids to be kids. I recently heard a podcast speaker say that children today are over-managed and overscheduled much more than we were in the sixties and seventies.

As parents, we strive to bring out the best in our children and help them achieve their potential by exposing them to different activities and allowing them to explore possibilities.

Be mindful about not cutting short their childhood years by constantly pressuring them to get the best grades and be accepted to the most prominent schools and/or excel in other extra-curriculars such as music and sports. For example, we want to communicate the value of education and getting good grades, but we don’t want to send the message that each homework assignment will make or break their future. Consider your child’s self-esteem, and remember that pushing them to stand out can make them feel like they are not good enough.

Are you ready to partner with your children to jumpstart the new school year and make the transition from vacation mode to school mode a smooth one for all involved?

The First Step

A good first step involves weaning the family from vacation mode. Ease your children and yourselves into the school routines and schedules. Get your kids to bed earlier and have them start waking up earlier before it’s time for them to go back to school.Two weeks in advance is recommended. We all need to adjust to our new timetables.

Being well rested helps the entire family get back into the groove of school. The top benefits of sleep leading to your child’s success in school are strengthening the immune system, which helps us to fight off germs, reducing injury risk, boosting learning, and increasing their attention span. It is true; kids are clumsier when they don’t get sufficient sleep. So are mom and dad. As parents, we most certainly profit from more sleep. We will be healthier, more present with our children, and more focused at work. Did you know that sleep is a deterrent for obesity? Adults and children who don’t get enough sleep tend to weigh more than those who do. The reasons? If you stay awake more, you eat more. If you are not well rested, you may not have the stamina to exercise. The hormone Leptin, which signals us to stop eating when we are full, may be negatively impacted when we are sleep deprived, so we keep eating.

Pause and take a deep breath. Please don’t panic. You can do this! Whether it’s the first time that your child is starting school, or you’ve been through this process many years, take some time to get grounded and centered. Find a quiet place, indoors or outside, away from your smart phone. Grab a pen and pad if you enjoy journaling or are a list person.

Ponder and Probe

Ponder about what you want your child’s school year and their learning experience to look like. If you could make the BTS process smooth and seamless, what would it look like?

What went well last year and what did not? Do you want to do anything differently or put new practices into place? Is your nanny or babysitter on the same page as you about after school snacks or homework? How much time do your children need for unwinding before they tackle their homework?

Probe – talk to your sons and daughters and actively listen to what they say and do not say. Encourage them to share what they are looking forward to in the new year, and what gives them the jitters. Validate their fears or concerns by expressing empathy. Really listen and address issues before the school year begins. Ask open-ended questions vs. questions that they can answer with a yes or no. You want to spark and extend your dialogue with your child. “Tell me about the best teacher you ever had.” “What is your favorite subject in school? Tell me more.”

What would your child
like to do differently?

In grade school I thought the new school year was about getting the right notebooks and new clothes and shoes. My parents were awesome, loving, and caring. However, as Holocaust survivors, they were focused on putting bread on the table and providing my brother and me with a solid yeshiva education and lots of nourishment and fresh air. Did my mother know that being overweight and shy led to my being bullied? I never told her.

Nor did my school offer parenting groups that were available to me as a parent.

We are so fortunate to have excellent support from our schools and communityorganizations. Thankfully there are many resources at our fingertips to empower us to help our children start the school year off on the right foot, and maximize their learning, peer relationships, and fun.

Plan and Prepare

Benjamin Franklin once said that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Being prepared will enable you as a parent to be confident and calm on the first day of school. Your children will pick up on those vibes and will receive a powerful and positive message about school. Do you have your carpool logistics worked out? 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 your kids, a new babysitter to train, new carpool partners, or a new drop off or pick up locationfor the bus.

Think Positive, Do Positive,
and Be Positive

Our children take their cues from Mom and Dad. Model your positive view of the new school year to energize and engage your daughters and sons about school.

Studies have shown that by adopting positive attitudes and shifting from a negative mindset to a positive one can increase one’s overall happiness, health, success, and wealth. A positive mindset will help to pave the way for your children to thrive and have a fulfilling year. Teach your children how to fill their lives with positive activities and thoughts and crowd out the negative things. Research shows that unless we are occupied with positive thoughts, worrying is the brain’s default position. We can learn how to keep negative emotions and thoughts in check by amplifying positive emotions.

Great leaders know that a positive attitude can be contagious. Well, we, as moms and dads are the leaders of our families. Parents who are smiling and upbeat, who practice a half glass full versus half glass empty outlook and express gratitude regularly, can influence their children to adopt a positive mindset and perspective.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, A”H, is viewed as the forerunner of positive psychology. He encouraged his followers to be optimistic and positive, especially in the language they used.

Engage Your Kids in the BTS process

Enlist and engage your children in BTS activities so they are invested in the process. Dr. Haim Ginott, a parent educator, said, “Treat achild as though he already is the person he’s capable of becoming.”

Carve out some time for a family meeting or a special outing at a fun venue before school starts. Ask your kids to brainstorm with you and listen and acknowledge their ideas about the BTSprocess. These meetings aid in building self-esteem and teach children about ownership, responsibility, independence, compromise, and conflict resolution. Assign your children tasks for the meeting, such as bringing healthy snacks and drinks, and set ground rules so that everyone can be heard.

The good news is that the new school year is about new beginnings that offer lots of opportunities and possibilities. We all get a fresh start and a clean slate.

Parents can tweak what they did last year and enhance their work-life balance. Students enjoy the prospect of new teachers, new friends, and new study tools. That’s as good as it gets!

See you all in September when the summer’s through!

Ellen Geller Kamaras, CPA/MBA, is an International Coach Federation (ICF) Associate Certified Coach. Her coaching specialties include life, career, and dating coaching. Ellen works part-time as an entitlement specialist at Ohel Children’s Home and Family Services. She can be contacted at (