Friday, September 23, 2011

For a child, a hug is a magic circle

Another year of school has begun! Life goes on in this curious American tradition based on the past. Children always got summers off school so they could help till the soil on the family farm —school began again after the harvest.

At this point in history not only does this make no sense, since hardly anyone even lives on a family farm anymore, but it inconveniences working families, who are stuck paying for day care all summer long for their children. The government would save so much money if children got three months in winter off instead of summers. The cost of plowing the streets for the school buses and keeping the buses running under winter conditions not to mention heating all those buildings must be enormous. Yet, few Americans would willingly give up their summer break.

As a mother of four I am exhausted. Why am I the one who is exhausted when it’s my children who are setting forth out of my home? I couldn’t sleep because I was so nervous for my children, even while they slept like little angels. Well, besides all the stress of buying school supplies and school clothes, I worry about them because I know what it was like for me when the school year began. I recall that I did not sleep a wink the night before my first day of kindergarten, afraid of the unknown. It was most of the way through the year before I made my first friend, I was so shy. My daughter just started kindergarten on Monday and already made a friend on the first day, thank goodness. She was blessed with a certain radiance and the assumption that everyone loves her in advance. Her main complaint, and she was really mad, was that the teacher didn’t give her any homework!

My son just started 7th grade and I feel so nervous for him because 7th grade was probably the most stressful year of my school-life. I developed headaches then, which I had never experienced before, chest pains, and stomach aches suddenly dealing with huge numbers of students that I didn’t know. Because I was not secure in my inner self, the outer image became very important as a way of connecting with a group, although it took me until 8th grade to even get that far. For the most part I was an invisible, book-carrying, glasses-wearing part of the machine going from class to locker to class. I felt like my life was a prison.

Knowing that the school year with its time consuming routines can turn life into a mundane blur hardly worthy of remembering, it is important to help our children create happy memories and help them ease into social interactions in an emotionally safe environment because school-life is not all fun and games. School is where we learn about the nasty, competitive side of human nature sometimes. Young people are starving for guidance, we just need to make it easy for them to do in a relaxed setting.

With my older ones in school I have my own struggles with my toddler, who is not used to having to entertain herself. The sheer inability to get anything accomplished with her destroying the house as fast as I can clean up will eventually steer me out of doors and bring me to interact with the community more. Once people start recognising your face, they are more likely to greet you and smile at you. But even smiling at a stranger can change the entire mood of a day.

Nobody needs your smile more than your child when he or she comes home from school. Some children go overboard in the attempt to make friends by doing things that are superficial or even harmful in order to gain attention like smoking or idolising a music genre. This is especially the case when kids don’t feel much approval at home. So make sure you give your child a hug every day and tell them something nice. Knowing you care, that you are nervous when they are nervous, and that you are proud of how they are growing up, makes all the difference in the world.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based 
freelance writer

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