If we listen closely, we can almost hear the muffled sobs of school children across the country as ads touting “Back to School” specials pop up on their screens. As a teacher, nervous parents often ask for advice on how to transition their progeny from the glorious freedom of the living room couch in summer to the fall’s morning rush for the bus stop.
My reply is not to tell these parents what to do, but rather to ask them to challenge their children as to what they could do. More specifically, what they could “be.” When pressed, I offer my suggestions on what happy children are often trying to be:
Be a snake. Shed your skin because each new school year is an opportunity to strip away anything you didn’t like about the last. Reinvent yourself, become what you want, and embrace the change expected of you at this age.
Be the ripples on a pond. Whether it’s the type of books you read, the friends you meet, the clubs you join or the experiences you seek, expand your circles and try new things. Ponds without ripples become stagnant and dirty; allow yourself to move freely in search of new adventures!
Be a dog after a bath. Shake it off! Setbacks are only as permanent as we allow them to be. School is the best time to practice resilience, the art of getting back on our feet after a fall.
Be a rubber ball. It’s not enough to simply get back up; we need to bounce back with energy and enthusiasm. Rubber balls are fun. If we don’t have fun bouncing back, we’ll never get very good at it.
Be a willow. Willow trees are made of very flexible but tough wood, the result of the size and tenacity of its root system. More importantly, new willow trees can grow easily from broken branches or cuttings on the ground. They show us the power of resilience and the importance of adaptation.
Be a honey badger. This small, intelligent creature has few natural predators because of its thick hide and phenomenal defensive abilities. If you make your skin thick enough so that the opinions of others doesn’t matter, you’ll be able to take risks and try anything (no matter your size).
Be a sunflower. Young sunflowers turn and track the sun in the sky. This allows for warmth and invites pollinating insects. Reach out to the people around you who provide warmth and support; you’ll soon find others come looking for you as you become a source of warmth and support yourself!
Be the sound of laughter. Always be laughing. Laugh easily. Laugh long. Laugh hard. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter can increase oxygen to the heart, lungs and muscles, improve mood and reduce pain. Laughter is the magic pill that makes school not just endurable, but fun.
Finally, be a window. Too often children become a wall, a place to throw things and see what sticks. Instead, be the window that allows for that refreshing breeze to bring life to the room. You don’t need to allow everything in, but we should always be aware of what’s out there. Be open to the gift of the occasional butterfly that wanders in to brighten our lives for a short time.
Here’s hoping the schoolchildren in your life approach this new academic year with the same hope and excitement one gets before embarking on any great journey, because that’s exactly the gift promised in every new school year. And if things don’t seem that way at first, let me add one more item to my list: Be patient. At this age, things will change by the minute.