It’s the night before school starts. The alarm is set to EARLY, the sandwich is packed in its new lunch bag, the outfit is laid out. . .uh-oh. Doubts creep in. Maybe that’s not the right thing to wear. Is it comfortable enough? Does it make the right statement? What will people think?
For that matter, what will they think of everything about me? What if I talk too much? Or too little – what if they mistake my shyness for being stuck up? What if there’s too much homework? Or not enough – what if nothing gets learned?
What if I can’t stay awake? How embarrassing if I doze off in class! What if I forget what I’m supposed to do next? What if there are awkward silences? I hate those! What if I spill on myself at lunch and have to spend the rest of the day smelling of sour milk?
What if I have to go to the bathroom in the middle of class? I can’t very well just get up and leave. What about breaks? What if nobody wants to talk to me?
Such are the thoughts of the TEACHER the night before school starts. And I’m a fairly self-confident adult! How much worse might it be for an awkward adolescent?
Think about the changes that might have occurred just over the summer. Larger feet, larger bra size, changing voice. . .what we adults might find amusing can be paralyzing in a 12- or 13-year-old. She’s just sure everyone will notice and be talking about her. Or he’s afraid his voice will crack and everyone will laugh at how stupid he sounds (teens aren’t always good at understanding sympathetic laughter).
Regular readers will know what I’m going to say. . .it’s time for a huge dose of EMPATHY. Listen for the emotion (most likely fear or embarrassment), and name it. “I remember feeling scared like that on my first day of school, too.” “Isn’t it embarrassing when you walk in the door and feel like everyone is staring at you?” Try gently re-focusing: “Don’t you love it when the first day’s over? The rest of the week just seems so much easier.” “Let’s go out to dinner tonight and you can tell me how it went.”
Avoid those words that prove you don’t understand: “Oh, you’re just being silly.” “What’s wrong with you? You told me how much you had to have that shirt!” “You look awesome; don’t worry about what anybody else thinks!”
The feelings are real, and for the middle-schooler, they’re very, very big. Show that you understand and can be supportive, then decide whether or not you’re brave enough to follow her inside and risk capturing a sulk or a glare in that first-day-of-school photo.