Although the calendar years begin on January 1st, for many of us the year really begins with the return to school , in these first weeks of September when we return from vacation and it is time to get back into the routine to face a new course.

For adults it can be complicated to manage it (in the pre-crisis stage there was even talk of a new diagnosis called “post-vacation depression”) and in childhood or adolescence would be no less .

The End of Summer and the Return to Routine

I remember as a child the days before returning to school, the mixture of sensations between the pain of ending the summer, the excitement of seeing friends, a certain nervousness in the face of the uncertainty of how the new subjects would be, new classmates and teachers, etc.

During these dates it is normal that our children experience a wide range of thoughts and emotions . Just as we prepare for the new school year with new school materials, new schedules and extra-curricular activities, it can be very positive to dedicate a few hours to helping our children see how they are going to face this new season.

Working on identifying what is important to them, what attitude they want to assume during this next course, what kind of partner, student, friend they want to be, and how they would like to see themselves acting in different situations, in a way that would make them feel proud at the end of the day, or feel satisfied when looking forward to the next vacation, can be a very helpful experience for the children, and at the same time a rich experience to get to know oneself better, to know the other, and to strengthen the confidence in the parent-child relationship .

Back to school: facing new directions and opportunities

“If you don’t know where you’re going, you can end up anywhere else,” Yogi Berra used to say, and this is something that the new currents of psychotherapy and coaching are deepening and emphasizing. Without direction, one drifts. If you are not clear about your essence, what you want to be, how you want to be, where you are going… , it is easy for everyday events to confuse your steps , making it difficult for you to get to the port you are interested in.

On the psychological level, from the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy we talk about values; what is important for you in the relationship of friendship, as a student, in your role of learning, as a child… How do you want to be? In this way, we obtain a direction, a stable horizon towards which to advance. Being clear about this will allow us to be able to continue on the desired path when emotions, thoughts and passing doubts appear that may try to take control of our actions and make us drift or move away from our course.

Starting a new course can therefore be a great opportunity to take some time to see what this course will be, what you want to do and how you want to be during this next season. To talk about your children’s goals and expectations for the next course, and how to approach them. Some observations, or guiding questions that may be helpful would be

  1. What is going on, what things in your life today are working well , that you are happy or content with it?
  2. In what ways would you like this school year to be different from the last one?
  3. During the school weeks, how do you want to spend your time and energy during school , in the playground, after school, after school activities, homework…?

These or similar questions can be used to determine what to spend time on and what to pay attention to during the next course. The fact of paying attention to this declaration of intentions allows people to act with meaning, being aware that what they are doing is for something, with a sense, thus avoiding acting on automatic pilot . At the same time, it will allow people to act in a conscious way, instead of reacting automatically to thoughts, emotions… that may appear.

Let’s take an example… Values and barriers in childhood

If for a child it is important in his role as a student, involvement, curiosity in learning and understanding what is explained, constancy as a habit to improve and grow , for example.

When a teacher announces an upcoming work or exhibition, the insecurity of speaking in public may arise, of not knowing the subject well and becoming evident, of not doing it well and getting a bad grade .

It is possible that in the following weeks, as he considers starting to prepare this work, he will come up against barriers, thoughts related to these concerns, so that he prefers to postpone this responsibility in order not to attend to it and stop feeling this discomfort, which each time due to lack of time progressively complicates the situation.

Keeping in mind the values you have established, how you want to face situations, even if you are worried that it might go wrong, and committing yourself to that direction, to that “how I want to be”, is something that will give meaning to what you do, will make you feel proud of yourself , and will most probably improve your performance in the different areas of your life.

Without knowing it, he or she will also be getting used to acting with psychological flexibility, learning to move towards what is important to him or her, taking the direction he or she wants even when the waves are rough with difficult thoughts, worries or emotions , which is important because psychological flexibility is central to personal well-being both in childhood and later in adulthood.

Evaluating processes vs. evaluating results

It may be advisable, given that the course is established in quarters, to raise these issues at a quarterly level and renew these commitments every 3 months modifying what is appropriate. In this line, it is also worth highlighting the difference between evaluating the processes or the results.

A test can go wrong for many reasons, leading to a bad result even when the student has worked well during the course and learned the subject matter. Conversely, someone can get lucky and get a good result by chance.

Focusing on processes means focusing on the quality of what you do, on cultivating an optimal way of operating, on which you can rely, which generates stability and security in the medium and long term. B roasting only on results is short term and can be dangerous as it can seem that something is working well when it is not, and can lead to drastic or volatile changes.

Focusing on the process, reviewing it when necessary but following a plan when it has been agreed that it is the best plan to follow, allows you to focus on what is important in the here and now, what needs to be done now, instead of worrying about what results will be obtained, thus also reducing the levels of stress and worry that can be generated by going around, worrying and ruminating.

As obvious as it may seem, it is easy to forget that the best way to get a good result here and now is to invest energy in what has to be done here and now (study, for example), not to spend the time devoted to study in going around the possible results to anticipate future consequences.

Preparing for the return to school on a psychological level

Although the format of this is completely free, an example of how to carry out and unravel what has been proposed up to now can be the following:

For each of the main roles played by the child in question, the target can be used, which includes some values, the way he or she wants to be, within that role. The idea is that there are different ways of acting throughout the day or the week , and some may involve “hitting the target” while others “missing the mark”, in relation to that value. It can be done with that of I-friend, I-student, I-son, I-as a member of a sports team…

Having established the values for different areas of life, the next step is to specify what you do when you are hitting the target, how you behave there, and what ways to act are to miss the shot.

Another alternative can be to prepare a planning of objectives in the direction of a value, for example: faced with the value of, as a child, being more “older” or “responsible”, there can be a series of objectives or tasks that go towards this : to clear the table, to clean my shoes, to buy breakfast on Saturdays, to make my bed, to go alone to catch the bus, to be able to go to the cinema with friends, to go out until X h. on weekends… According to each case and moment of life.

Now that we have the facts of what it means to hit a target, what it means to miss, we should see what things can make you miss a shot, what things appear that make you move the rudder and lose your way.

Generally, there can be internal (thoughts, emotions, etc.) and external (time restrictions, economic, physical distance…). It is positive and convenient to become aware of them, to know that they are there and to gain ability to identify them, so that when the fear of failing and thoughts related to it appear , the person can decide freely, whether to obey that fear or to act on its values.

In conclusion

What it will be like to hit the target when a difficulty arises, and learn to stay on course even when the waves suggest hiding in the hold, are great lessons for the today and tomorrow of our children , and exercises like the one proposed can be equally interesting for any other age group.

And you, how do you want to face this new course?