August 2018: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year!

As we embrace the last few weeks of August, we begin to shift from our leisurely paced summer mode to the more regimented schedule of another school year. For parents, this means creating a plan for each day of the week and taking a look at the school supply list.  At this time of year, I always enjoy watching the clever Staples commercial that illustrates the contrasting viewpoints between how parents and children look at the approaching school year.  In the ad, the kids can be seen moping reluctantly around the store while dad joyfully skips and dances through aisles.  As the scene unfolds Andy Williams sings, “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” But is the start of school the most wonderful time of the year? 

For many students and their families, the start of school signals an accelerated and often frantic pace with a whirlwind of activities.  It seems that each year students and parents feel increased pressures from a variety external sources. College bound students, for example, are expected to maintain a certain grade average, score well on the SAT and ACT and demonstrate a well-rounded life in order to be competitive with their peers. Athletes begin intense practice schedules in order to compete at the highest levels. Thespians often spend up to seven days a week rehearsing for the fall drama. And students involved in clubs and outside pursuits attempt to balance the demands of both curricular and extra-curricular activities. We also know that most students and their parents worry about things like homework, making the team, getting the part, passing the driver’s test, and balancing busy social calendars with academic demands.

Adolescents also feel the social pressures of “fitting in” and making new friends. Even our youngest learners sometimes feel a sense of stress as well-meaning parents get caught in the trap of assessing their shoe tying readiness, whether or not they can write their name correctly, or their ability to read aloud.

Cases of school phobia and anxiety in Robbinsville and across the nation have risen dramatically across all grade levels.  At the start of a new school year, students worry about whether they will be able to open their lockers, where they will sit in the lunchroom, who will play with them at recess, and on and on. The popularity of - and constant access to - social media can lead many students to feel that they do not measure up to the picture perfect online profiles of their classmates. 

And where schools used to feel safe, many students and parents have internalized the stress and fear that has become all too prevalent in a world in which school shootings have become commonplace.

And so, over the course of the next few weeks, as families prepare for the year ahead purchasing new sneakers and new clothes, catching up on summer homework, and stocking up on school supplies, we offer a gentle reminder to say that we all actually carry our most essential supplies with us.

Oxygen.

We take for granted that there is an abundant supply of oxygen available to us if only we take time to breathe.  Yet research shows that most people do not inhale and exhale deeply enough throughout the course of the day.  Many busy, overstressed individuals take short shallow breaths from the chest instead of the diaphragm which creates an imbalance in the proper amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide. Breathing does not merely supply oxygen to the brain and body it also controls many complex behaviors.  When we breathe in, we stimulate areas in our brain that control our mental functioning and emotions.  Mindful breathing quiets our over-stimulated mind, allowing us to let go of negativity and boosting our energy level.

Patience. 

Our patience is continually tested and may be in short supply as we race from one obligation to the next.  As we live in this digitally obsessed world, we may forget how to wait for even the simplest of things. However we recognize that patience matters and that patient people are happier and healthier.

Gratitude.

When our world spins out of control and our days seem fraught with incessant demands and challenges, it often helps to take some time to be thankful.  During the moments when we forget to breathe and our patience wears thin, remembering that our children are happy and healthy and that our lives and our work are meaningful help us to take stock of what is really important.  Practicing gratitude helps to open our minds and our hearts to the fullness and the beauty of each moment.

Love.

One of the most essential lessons for children of all ages is learning that love is a verb. In his research on love Social Scientist John Gottman discovered that lasting relationships have two things in common…kindness and generosity.  When our children learn to practice kindness and generosity, we teach them the key to forming healthy and lasting relationships. Likewise when we remember to treat others with kindness and generosity we set the stage for happier interactions and a happier life.

When we remember that our most essential supplies – oxygen, patience, gratitude and love – are accessible to each of us in any given moment, the start of a new school year can absolutely become the most wonderful time of the year!

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