Back to school - It's Not About the Shoes

05/07/2016 10:11 | Updated 05 July 2016

I was talking to one of the other facilitators at The Parent Practice, Juliet Richards, this week about going back to school.... As you do when the summer holidays haven't even begun!

She said her teenagers will still need some help and 'encouragement' in September to get themselves organised, but it will be easier than it has been before. They're used to it, after all.

She said she was not thinking so much about the next first day back but more about all the first days that have come before. I asked her what she had learned over the last decade of new school years.

Juliet is a self-confessed planner (like it was a guilty secret!). She admits that being organised makes her feel better, as if it proves she is doing the best job she can. For the last ten summers, she has focused on the practical details of the first day at school, including the Big Shoe Dilemma.

"Do I go early, and avoid the queues and get it done, but risk their feet growing over the holidays? Or indeed, as once happened, get the right shoes in July, only to lose them altogether by the time September arrives!

Or do I go later, and risk the mad scrum and the possibility they will have to turn up in the 'wrong' shoes because the ones they wanted, or needed, are not available in their size?"

Juliet has spent many more hours of the summer working out the 'right' way to name socks, lunch boxes, pants, etc than I have.

But she has learnt something important in those ten years. "After a decade of first days back, I get it. It was never about the shoes or any of the other practical stuff. And it was not something that I suddenly turned my hand to in mid-August.

It's not about their external world, although of course this matters. The wrong lunch box can send your child into a spin, and the whole 'where to put the name-tapes' also matters if you want to (1) keep a track of things and (2) have a hyper-sensitive child who really can feel every stitch and wrinkle.

It is about their internal world. Our children's success, or otherwise, at school depends on what they carry inside, not on the outside."

So we talked about what it really takes to do well at school.

Juliet's view is that "Yes, you need shoes and pencils, and a water bottle. There is a whole lot to be said for being punctual and prepared. And I still believe in tidiness and hope, one day, my sons will voluntarily use a hairbrush. And, yes, it's also a bit about knowing your numbers and letters.

More than anything it's about knowing how to listen, how to co-operate, how to wait, how to focus and keep going when things get tricky, how to make things interesting, how to read other people and communicate. This is what helps children do their best at school.

And we can help them develop these valuable skills day in, day out, in the holidays and beyond, by paying attention to all the little steps they take in these areas. Because none of these things come naturally to small people!

So this summer, I am not stressing about nametapes or shoes. I am going to keep my eye on the end goal and focus on their internal world - I want to notice every time they listen, wait, help, co-operate, plan and problem-solve, and make suggestions and show initiative. And I will say something to them about how it is appreciated and valued.

I have always tried to do this, ever since I came to the parenting course at The Parent Practice when the boys were young. The advice and guidance helped us then, and it is really paying off now.

In fact, as teenagers, they have most of the practical stuff 'sorted' and sometimes their growing competence can mean I feel they don't need me any more.

Is my work done? Of course not! And quite honestly I never want it to be! Helping my sons understand and manage their inner world is something I can do for a while yet. Oh, and I also need to teach them to iron! "

What advice would you have for parents of children going back to school in September? How can they use the holidays to prepare?