The agony and the ecstacy

August 16, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

With the time for pencils, books and dirty looks barely more than a week away, there are two ways to view the impending school year:

Dread - Oh, no, not again... the summer just started. I don't wanna have homework. And you have to get up soooo early...

Joy - Free at last, free at last! The last three months felt like 12 ... No more fights, no more searching for something to do... And they're gone soooo early...


Stereotypically, students fall into the former category while parents occupy the latter mindset.

But is that the way it really shakes out?

"Yeah, kind of," says 13-year-old Dustin Vogel about whether or not he's looking forward to returning to Western Heights Middle School to begin eighth grade on Aug. 26.

Dustin looks forward to seeing his friends again, and rejoining the band where he plays drums. Practicing at home, he says, just isn't the same.

Between Dustin and another son taking his first steps into high school, Robin Vogel is looking at this fall with a bit more anticipation than years past.

Not that it isn't time for them to go.

"I'm glad to see them go back and get some structure," the president of the Western Heights Middle School PTA says. "They get bored this time of year. They're on each other's nerves, they're on my nerves and they're bored."

Her son agrees that it's probably about time he went back to school. What Dustin is not necessarily eager for is the onrush of homework. Or getting up early.

"Because I'm tired in the morning and stuff," he says.

In "Positive Pushing: How to Raise a Successful and Happy Child" (Hyperion 2002), Dr. Jim Taylor writes about how to encourage children in their studies without being overbearing.

The San Francisco-based psychologist says success alone will be unfulfilling if not coupled with happiness. This also applies to the weeks before heading back to school, when tensions can run high between parents and kids.

"Both kids and adults experience a variety of emotions regarding back to school, and I think parents can prod their children with a more positive perspective that sets the tone for their children's perspective about school," he says.

Particularly with teens, who tend to assert their independence by rebelling against parents. Parents eager to see their children return to school can have children who dig in their heels at the prospect of returning to the daily educational grind.

"Kids are incredibly intuitive creatures," Taylor says. "And it's often the subtle messages, what I call the power of subtle, that can really hurt kids or help them. Whether it's a subtle comment or facial expression, kids pick up on that."

Though pleased to see her boys return to the classroom, Vogel remembers when that wasn't the case.

Sending her boys to kindergarten and first grade were difficult milestones to mark, especially compared to these days when her children know what to expect from school and have reasons - friends, extracurricular activities - to anticipate returning.

"There were times when they would cry and not want to go to school," she recalls. "But you had to put them on the bus and walk away. You have to let the bus doors close and walk away, and that's hard to do."

Five tips from San Francisco psychologist Jim Taylor to help children prepare for going back to school:

1. Examine what your values are and make sure you are communicating those values to your child every day in what you say and how you act.

2. Set expectations that emphasize healthy values to help your child become successful and happy (hard work, responsibility, cooperation, patience and persistence) rather than expectations stressing grades, results and other outcomes.

3. Help your child find their passion. If they find something they love to do, they will be successful and happy.

4. Allow children to experience all emotions. Don't placate or distract them from their feelings. Help them identify, understand and express their emotions in healthy ways.

5. Don't live vicariously through your children. If you have your own life, you won't need to invest yourself excessively in your child's achievements.

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