Feeling anxious about sending your child to school? Who isn’t? Even during non-pandemic years, the first days of school are full of emotions. It’s nearly impossible not to feel nervous especially this year considering everything from the vaccines to variants, masks to media headlines. Getting to a zen-like state surrounding school is a pipe dream for many parents and guardians.
If you’re in the vast majority feeling the feels, please know that parents and guardians may be experiencing any of the following when their child heads off to school:
Each of these feelings, alone or together, are normal. How you navigate those feelings with your partner matters a whole lot!
School & Stressful Conversations
Oftentimes when confronted with a dilemma, couples tend to immediately shift into problem-solving mode. While solving problems is a huge and necessary task, if it happens too quickly and prior to each partner really feeling heard and understood, there is potential for the conversation to fall flat. Take going back to school as an example. Joe tries to talk to Jade after getting the school supply list.
Joe: “I just got the supply list. They are asking us to buy all this stuff – who has time to pick this up? And what are “wet ones?!” I am behind at work with multiple projects due within the next couple of days, we have no groceries, and we have to go to my mom’s birthday party this weekend, and our kids’ school has an open house next Tuesday night. I’m freaking out! How is all of this going to get done?”
Jade: “Don’t worry about it – take a breath. You’re freaking out about nothing. You always get too wrapped up, but in the end things work out. Order groceries online and I’ll swing past the store tomorrow on my way home from work. Everything else will work out.”
Does this conversation feel or sound familiar? While it seemingly ends “fine,” there’s a lot of room for improvement. Jade’s reply comes across as critical, minimizes Joe’s feelings, and could feel dismissive. Her reply could shut down the conversation altogether. And although a helpful suggestion was made (i.e., picking up curbside groceries), it may not feel too helpful at this moment.
Joe and Jade could easily turn this conversation from fine to fantastic with a few small but impactful tweaks:
Jade could improve her reply by saying something like: “That is a lot, and I can tell you feel stressed. You said you are freaking out – what else are you feeling?”
…Jade pauses to listen to Joe…
Jade: “You definitely have a lot on your plate, like all those work projects due at the same time. That is a lot of pressure. Feeling committed to your mom’s party and the open house, there isn’t a lot of downtime and any we might have, it sounds like we will use it to get some errands done. It makes sense that you are freaking out, it feels like a lot. I’d really like to help. What do you need?”
Why is this reply so much better? Let’s break it down…
- Listen for understanding: Jade repeated back what Joe said was stressful (work projects, mom’s party, open house, and running errands).
- Share how you feel: Joe’s feelings were shared and acknowledged.
- Validate your partner: Rather than jumping straight to fixing Joe’s problem and therefore minimizing his feelings, Jade used validation, “It makes sense [to me] that you are freaking out – it’s a lot.”
After Jade follows those three steps, she’s able to make a supportive, smooth transition into problem-solving together, “I’d really like to help. What do you need?”
5 Steps to a Healthy Conversation
Regardless of topic – so many things will be stressful, frustrating, overwhelming during this school year – you can have a successful conversation around stressful things by following these steps:
- Know the goal. The goal is to understand one another first, not to immediately problem-solve or fix the situation.
- Have a stress-reducing conversation. Listen for understanding. If you feel heard and understood by your partner, it makes problem-solving easier and more collaborative.
- Share how you feel. Use emotions. If you don’t have an emotional vocabulary, no worries, here is a great chart to use.
- Validate your partner’s feelings and experience. Validation does not mean, “I agree with you, you’re right,” rather, it shows that you can see from your partner’s perspective and you understand.
- Offer to help. For many conversations, steps 1-4 will suffice. Oftentimes, our partners already have a solution in mind and what they really need is to feel heard, understood, and to be validated. This is a good time to check in with your partner, “Do you feel heard by me? Do you feel understood?” If you do a good job validating your partner, they will answer “yes.” If you get a “yes,” you can then ask, “Is there anything you need? Want me to help solve the problem?”
While your gut-reaction to challenges like these may be to immediately go into problem-solving mode, you will miss out on the opportunity to support your partner by ensuring they feel heard and understood. This bit of extra time and attention to your partner will deepen the connection between you both and create more positivity in the relationship.
Need a bit more help?
Want to improve communication? Research shows that healthy communication, such as the ability to listen, is predictive of later relationship and marital outcomes. Therapy can help. If you’re curious how therapy can help you strengthen your relationships or improve ways to communicate, find a therapist near you. I’m a therapist in AZ and my practice specializes in relationship health—you can find me here.