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Erin Stewart: Preparing kids to be kind, strong at school

Published: Friday, Aug. 22 2014 3:35 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Aug. 26 2014 3:45 p.m. MDT

Summer is drawing to an end and it’s all school-supply lists and cleaning out closets at my house. Every year, we make sure the clothes all fit, the lunch boxes made it back into the cupboards and everything is as organized as we can possibly get it before school begins, because once it starts, life is a constant hamster wheel until the final bell in June.

While I’m prepping my house and brain and closets for the school year, I also like to take time every year to prep my kids. I’m not talking about the reading and workbooks they’ve been doing all summer. I’m talking about preparing them to interact with other kids while staying true to themselves.

Here’s the thing: I am about to hand my daughter over to someone else for seven hours a day where she will be surrounded by children and adults who don’t all share her values. She only tells me about 1 percent of what happens during the day, so I am about to lose a lot of control over her world.

And with all the stories about bullying out there, it’s up to mothers to help their kids understand what it means to be good, kind and true to their convictions. If we don’t sit down and talk to them about how to treat others between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., who will? Teachers will do their best, but they’ve got 30 kids clamoring for attention.

Here’s what I hope my daughter understands before she heads back into the classroom:

  1. She has worth. No matter what names are called or feelings are hurt, my daughter has value. She is the only one who can determine if those names mean anything. She can decide who she is and cling to her own self-image when others try to tear it down.
  1. Everyone struggles. I want my daughter to not feel defeated when she fails, but also to understand that the kids around her might be struggling also. They might be having a hard time with schoolwork, a new language or even trouble at home. Whatever it is, she needs to understand that unkind words or actions from her peers often reflect their own struggles and pain.
  1. Kindness is beautiful. Kindness is a forgotten virtue in our world. Ambition, aptitude and tenacity often trump all the other qualities in the classroom. But kindness is beautiful — and so very necessary. I want my daughter to notice when another child is sad and think of ways to help. I want her to be not the kid who pushes and shoves to the front of the line at the water fountain, but the one who makes sure everyone gets a turn.
  1. It’s OK to speak up. Kindness doesn’t mean being a pushover. I hope she stands up for herself and for others when it’s appropriate. Mastering the skill of getting what you need without being loud and obnoxious about it is something I wish more kids could learn in grade school. The squeaky wheel usually gets the attention, but often the calm and confident voice can be so much stronger.
This week, we’ve been working on these skills with a little role-playing. We practice introducing ourselves confidently and how to react when someone is mean. Kids actually need to practice these things because, let’s face it, kids are inherently social morons. You know this if you’ve ever tried to get your child to introduce himself or herself to someone new and both kids just stand there staring at the floor and grinning awkwardly.

In addition to role-playing, we will also be doing this brilliant family home evening idea from MyMixofSix.blogspot.com. The basic idea is, you have a balloon with a picture of someone on it and a list of qualities that everyone can see, like "quiet" and "shy" and "bad at English." Then when you pop the balloon, you find a sheet with other facts on it like that they just moved from another country and are really scared, but they love to play soccer and want to make new friends.

I’ll be sad when my daughter heads back to school because I’ve loved our lazy summer days together. But when she walks off with her brand-new backpack full of school supplies, I know she’ll feel proud of being a big second-grader. I hope I’ve done my best to equip her with the skills she’ll need to return home with her head held just as high.

How do you prepare your kids for the social component of school?

Erin Stewart is a regular blogger for Deseret News. From stretch marks to the latest news for moms, she discusses it all while her 7-year-old and 3-year-old daughters dive-bomb off the couch behind her.

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