Over the next few weeks, schools around the country reopen. The air pulses with excitement. The lassitude of summer gives way to the frantic busy-ness of school. New supplies, new teachers, new classes all bring the anticipation of a fresh start. But school also dredges up fears of being able to make the grade--academically as well as socially. This is especially true of children who find change difficult. For them, the school year is filled with unknowns, of lots of demands on them to measure up and to be judged.
Shopping for school can become a battleground. Kids insist that the "right" clothes are their tickets to social acceptance. This is all a huge deal to them. Tough critics fill the Peanut Gallery. Peer pressure is intense. Appearance becomes a governing focus as they worry about sporting the trendy hair style, toting the coolest cell phone or being too fat/thin or too tall/short. They study their images in the mirror with a hyper-critical eye. Often the hardest ones to impress are themselves. A stray hair, an unwelcome zit or the "wrong" outfit can send them into complete meltdown.
While it is easy to dismiss their insistence on looking "right," recall your own efforts to fit in on the job. Remind yourself, that you too, consider the standards of the "pack" in which you work every day. Cut the kids some slack. To the extent you can, affirm their selections. As long as it doesn't violate your values--only your adult aesthetics--avoid belittling them. If possible, offer them ways to "earn" things you deem too expensive.
At the same time, help them to value themselves beyond the trappings of "stuff," to notice and appreciate their own beauty. Share your own struggles with conforming to social pressures. Sometimes, you too, follow them. Other times, you choose to buck the current, to stand out and be the trend setter instead of the trend follower. Kids (and adults) sometimes have difficulty appreciating their own “beauty.” This is particularly true of kids who have experienced “Tough Starts.”
Last week, on my personal blog, I reviewed the book, “The Best Part of Me” a collection of photographs by Wendy Ewald; consider following the premise as a family activity. She asked third, fourth and fifth grade students to choose which part of themselves they liked best and then they shared their thoughts about their choice and posed for a picture. The prose is not polished, (The text is written by kids) but, the children’s genuine feelings shine through. Much is revealed about how they view themselves, what they value, and how they identify their place in their families, communities and the world. Their choices are an amazing window into their inner world.
Take this on as a family project. the concept: The Best Part of Me presupposes that there is something that the children value about themselves. Perhaps it will assist them in identifying and appreciating many. Join in the fun and snap pictures of your own “assets.” Remember, you are setting an example here. This is the time to lay down any self-judgments. Lead the way. Snap a picture of those now-flabby arms that have embraced your kids, the fleshy lap in which they’ve snuggled, the shoulder on which they’ve cried. This exercise can open your own mind as much as it inspires the children.
Put aside worries of being “enough” and model an enthusiastic self-acceptance. Write down your thoughts. Consider poetry, a song, a letter. Let the acceptance flow. Gather everything into a family “book.” Decide with whom you will share it. Remember, your kids will be watching; they will sniff out any self-judgment you have. This is the perfect activity to teach them self-appreciation, to break free of arbitrary—and unreasonable—societal standards of beauty. You are the model, the teacher, the leader and they are your most important students. What greater gift can you present them than to value and appreciate themselves.
I’ll lead by example. My favorite part of me: my smile ...