Back to school… those words fill me with anxiety. I remember going school clothes shopping, having tiny panic attacks in the dressing room, as I realized the inevitable end of summer was getting closer. You see school was not so great for me. I spent my first grade year with a trash can next to my desk, because I would throw up at least once a day. I was afraid of having to read out loud, work a math problem on the board, or to be called on by the teacher.
My teachers couldn’t figure me out. I seemed like an intelligent kid, I retained anything read to me, but ask me to read, or write, or work a math problem, and I struggled like a fish out of water. I was quickly placed in the lowest level groups in my classes, the teachers made this very clear to the whole class. In my teachers opinions I was bright, but didn’t do the work, so therefore must be lazy. I received lecture after lecture about living up to my potential, please stop being lazy, stop playing so much and start working. I would plead to them crying, I am trying SO hard, I’m not playing. They didn’t believe me. I figured if the teachers were telling me I wasn’t trying, and I knew I was trying as hard as I could, then I must be stupid. It wasn’t until 4th grade that a teacher finally believed me. The only problem was I was in a small private school, and this teacher had no resources to help me. She suggested I get my eyes checked, nope 20/20 vision. She suggested getting my hearing tested, nope perfect hearing. That’s where the help stopped.
Flash forward to the end of 6th grade. A learning disability specialist came and offered a free screening at my small private school. I remember going home and giving the letter to my mom, who asked, “What is a learning disability specialist?” Luckily my teacher strongly encouraged my mom to send me to the screening. The specialist referred me for further screening. I was tested for many disabilities and diagnosed with dyslexia.
I have learned to compensate for it, but I still struggle at times. I have a hard time spelling, and reading words that I am not familiar with. Teachers lengthened test times for me, gave me C’s with an asterisk. It took a long time to heal from those experiences, and I still have some healing to do. The most important thing I gained from the diagnosis, is realizing I am smart, gifted in fact. It’s taken me 30 years to finally believe it.
I wonder what our children face when they hear the words “back to school?” Are they filled with anxiety, fear, hope, curiosity? When the intensity arises, and boy does it, my initial response is to react to the intensity. Then the 8-year-old-me cries out in my head, “Don’t be like the teachers you had!!!” I try to take a second to breath, calm myself, and then ask what is coming up for my boys. We talk about the source. Sometimes the talks take longer than others, but once they get it out, I can physically see them relax, and the whole house can breathe again. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t always get this right, and there are plenty of times that my own intensity takes over and intensifies everyone’s intensity. But I am reminding myself to focus on progress and not perfection; progress in the developing emotional health of my children as well as their academic well-being.
As we are preparing for our children to go back to school, let’s also focus on the emotional aspects our children are facing. Ask them how they are feeling, and take in their responses. Spend some time reflecting on your own educational experiences; allow the memories to come back, so that you can share your experiences with your children. Listen to their concerns, brainstorm with them about possible ways to address their concerns. Be the advocate you wish you would have had in your corner when you were a child. Watch your children physically relax and breathe in the calm with them.