What is in your child’s “backpack”?

By Terina Henry

How do you prepare your child for school?  When faced with this question many of us jump automatically to the nuts and bolts of scholastic preparedness.  School supplies, proper nutrition, sufficient sleep and appropriate clothing.  These have long been considered the basic requirements for optimal learning in a school setting. Last week Westgate staff attended a retreat in Gimli, MB led by Gordon Neufeld PhD, author of Hold On To Your Kids.  According to Dr. Neufeld these are in fact, not the most important tools for success in school and in life. He uses the backpack analogy to illustrate the idea of providing your children with a sense of curiosity, an ability to learn from their mistakes and to process dissonance.

In September, my son Adam, then 16, realized his dream of playing for the WHL with the Lethbridge Hurricanes.  He moved to Alberta and is living with a wonderful billet-family and travelling across Western Canada and the US with his team.  In January my 19 year old daughter Sarah left for a year of work and travel in Ireland, and is enjoying meeting people from around the world and experiencing a new culture. My youngest, 14 year old Christian, is in his first year of high school and adjusting to being an “only” child.  This has been a difficult year for my husband and me as we learn to parent through text messages and Skype, working hard to keep our family ties as strong as possible from a great distance.  As my children were preparing to leave home I was frequently asked if they were ready.  That is a difficult question to answer. I could of course, only speculate, hope and pray that indeed they were ready; ready to face the challenges that lay ahead of them… especially for the two who would be doing it without us.  Oh sure, we purchased all the necessary items for travel and tried to think ahead and anticipate every physical need, but emotionally, spiritually, were they ready?

As I listened to Dr. Neufeld, he described how a full “backpack” comes from the attachment children have with their family.  Their sense of safety, their values and self-worth give them the courage and strength to face life with a soft heart and an open mind, not fearing the vulnerability that is required to truly be open to learning something new. And as he described what is more commonly missing in our world today in terms of attachment, I realized that this question of whether my children were “ready” was not new to me. I had essentially been checking their “backpacks” since they were infants.   My children know that they can live through difficult times and come out stronger. They know that sometimes they need to face adversity in order to get to where they want to go.  They also know they have our unconditional support and love regardless of mistakes they have made and despite the sometimes arduous journey (we all must take) through adolescence.

Dr. Neufeld would suggest we send our children off to school each day with an extra supply of love, encouragement, gentle guidance, support and understanding. As parents, it is not our role to eliminate hardship or frustration but rather to be there to hold them close when times are tough and reassure them that success is just on the other side of failure.  As we move through our hectic daily lives, let us pause regularly to check the “backpack”, and make sure our children are well prepared.

* A copy of Dr. Neufeld’s book is available to be borrowed from the school.