When you drop your kids off at school, what do you say to them as they leave the car? Think about this: your words at drop-off are your last nuggets of advice before they are released into the world, to be with their teachers and peers. What message are you sending to them?
What is your drop-off mantra?
Your drop-off mantra — your final parting words to your kids before school — is a great opportunity to emphasize how you want them to be and interact with the world. It’s important to develop a drop-off mantra that is meaningful, and hopefully impactful.
You don’t control them, of course (as my second son often likes to remind me). They’ll act how they want to act. They’ll be how they want to be. But, as parents, we probably nudge them towards our own vision of better ways to interact with the world.
When I was a kid, my Mom used to say “Be sweet!” to my sisters and me every time she dropped us off. It was a phrase that came from her father (my grandfather), one of the sweetest men ever. “Be sweet!” captures so much of what my mother tried to instill in us as people: treating others with respect, radiating goodness, trying to be a source of positive energy in the world. And I think it stuck with us for life.
Here’s another example: I knew a Princeton professor who used to tell us that his Mom and Dad said to him every day at drop-off: “Remember, Danny, think for yourself!” Every… single… day… they said this to him as they dropped him off. And guess what? He sure showed his original thinking when he became a tenured psychology professor, developing innovative and exciting new psych experiments.
So, what will you say to your own kids at their daily drop-off? What do you want to remind them of, right before they go forth and explore life outside your reach?
My own drop-off manta these days is: “Be sweet and have fun!” I say it every day. It combines the kindness message from my Mom and adds my own emphasis on having fun each day. I hope, in the long run, that the message has an impact (geek’s note: separating causation from correlation may be a challenge here!).
Here are some tips for creating your own drop-off mantra:
- Keep it punchy. Keep it short, keep it simple. Make it memorable. Say something that rolls off the tongue so your kids start to repeat it on their own.
- Make it genuine. What do you really care about as a parent? What matters to you in your own life? To me, being a good person (“Be sweet!”) and enjoying life on a daily basis (“Have fun!”) are at the top of my list. They represent what I stand for, as a person and a parent.
- Get your kids on board. Sometimes flip it into a question, “Are you kids gonna be sweet and have fun today?” Lobby for a “Heck yes!” Get their buy-in.
- Be open to change. As your family evolves, so will your drop-off mantra. It may make sense to change up mantras for different periods of life, or depending on how your kids develop as they grow up. Maybe I’ll even split test mantras with my different kids.
- Have fun! You don’t need to be overly serious about it. Pick something that makes you smile and laugh, and go with it. If you’re having fun, your kids will too.
Readers: Do you have a drop-off mantra? If so, I’d love to hear what it is! Challenge for parents: try a drop-off mantra for a week, and see how it goes.