The end of summer brings lots of changes. The weather gets cooler. The days get shorter. The leaves start to change color. Children start school. Or child care. Or have new teachers and classrooms. A lot of change.
While starting something new can be exciting and eagerly anticipated, it can also be scary for a child. Will my teacher like me? What are the rules? Will I know anybody? Where is the bathroom?
And it’s not just the child having all the worries! Parents have them, too. How did my child grow up so fast? What if he doesn’t like it? Will he have friends? How will I manage the school routine, soccer practice, my job, and everything else going on?
It helps us all to know what to expect when change is looming large. We need to be prepared for the ups and downs, the highs and lows. Here are a few things to keep in mind:
It can take weeks for children to become comfortable in a new environment.
When a child has to ‘keep it together’ all day, there may be melt-downs where it’s safe (with you!) and they can let it all out. Anticipating this can help us be prepared to stay calm and supportive.
New behavioral issues may surface: a child who rarely cries may be quick to break down. An easy-going child may become grumpy and quick-tempered. Or a child may regress and say she can’t get dressed on her own or pick up her toys anymore. Patience is the key here. Typically these behaviors won’t last long.
Children will probably need more sleep, especially early on – adjusting to all that newness can be exhausting!
So how do we weather the stormy or even the sunny transitions?
Supporting Your Child
Take your cues from your child. What questions is he asking? What is he worried about? What is he excited about? Help him identify his feelings and let him know those feelings are okay. He might be feeling anxious and eager. It is comforting for children to know that they can have more than one feeling at a time and that feelings can change quickly.
Be careful not to dismiss your child’s feelings by saying things like, “Don’t worry. Everything will be fine.” While we want to be reassuring, it doesn’t feel like everything will be fine at the moment. Instead, reflect the feelings you hear.
Tell a few positive stories about your early school days, or about a time you started something new (going to camp, joining an organization, changing jobs). And talk about times you felt scared or nervous and what you did to feel better. It helps to know that we are not the only ones who have felt this way.
To build skills that are helpful in a classroom, play games that involve taking turns, have rules, or require thinking before acting. Even good ol’ Simon Says, Red Light – Green Light, and Mother May I help children develop self-control.
Keeping to a routine (as much as possible) is comforting to children. Try to hold the extra activities at a minimum those first few weeks. Allow for down time – over-scheduled kids can mean tired, frazzled, and tense kids. And parents!
Refrain from telling your child how much you will miss him. Instead, at the end of the day ask him to share one thing about his day, and you share something about your day as well.
Try to set aside a few minutes each day (without technology) to spend on an activity that your child chooses. That focused attention, even if it’s brief, is reassuring for your child and makes him feel valued.
Taking Care of Yourself
Sometimes in preparation for a transition like the start of a new school year, we focus all of our attention and energy on our child. If we are going to be supportive, we need to be aware of how WE are feeling, too. Young children are intuitive, and can pick up on adult worries and concerns. Whether you find comfort in talking with a friend, taking a walk, or just carving out a little ‘me’ time, try to take care of yourself, too. When we care for ourselves, we are often better emotionally equipped to have empathy for others.
Learn and practice steps designed to help you calm down when you feel yourself getting impatient or upset or even overly excited. Not only does this help you calm down, but you are modeling the use of a very helpful tool for your child. Teachit to them, too.
Stay in touch with your child’s teacher. It can help to know how things are going from that perspective.
In the immediacy of everyday life with young children, finding ways to take care of yourself, will help you be a calm, loving presence with your child.
Starting anything new is challenging. Taking time to plan ahead and be prepared can result in a more confident, relaxed child who is ready to take on the world!
The 6th Annual Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day was a great mix of moving, reading, experimenting, and learning! Early childhood programs around the country and in Bermuda danced, ran, tried new foods, read books, and played games.
In DeWitt Michigan, at Capital Area Community Services Head Start, Jessie Nevius sent this report: “Our kids enjoyed celebrating being healthy with Al! We read the story Al’s Healthy Choices and did Al’s Action Story. We used the book to have a discussion about healthy foods and healthy activities. We worked hard to complete Al’s healthy food maze.”
The students at Lyceum Preschool in Bermuda enjoyed an interactive read-aloud by Mrs. Shavana Wilson. After doing about twenty minutes of exercise, students were given a healthy snack of fresh fruit kabobs and peanut butter and jelly rice cakes. Mrs. Kimwana Eve also presented all the students with their own Al’s Pals t-shirts and water bottles.
Debbie Miller’s class at Maymont School in Richmond Virginia read Al’s Healthy Choices and talked about their favorite healthy food and how they stay active. Then they had a tasting party with cauliflower, snap peas, mango, red pepper, cara cara orange, and starfruit. Most were a big hit, but the starfruit was not very popular! Everyone was adventurous and willing to try new foods.
In Arkansas, at the North Little Rock School District, Whitney Addie’s class celebrated Healthy Al, Healthy Me all week and tried different fruits and vegetables. The overall favorite was strawberries. After talking about how they grew and what they looked and tasted like, the children did a still-life drawing. Each child was excited about trying so many different fruits and veggies.
Angelette Pryor at Shady Grove Y in Richmond Virginia reports that Al was as popular as ever during the YMCA Healthy Kids Day. At the Al’s Pals station kids made Al hats. This station is a calm spot among the busy, noisy stations. Several kids came to the calm down spot which had big pillows on a small rug with the Calm Down and Problem-solving posters there. They had current Al’s Pals kids stop by as well as those who remembered Al from previous years.
The Grasshopper Class at St. James Child Development Center in Richmond Virginia did yoga poses and danced. The celebration fit right in with their focus for the month of April: exercise!
Ruby Allen’s STEPS Head Start class in Charlotte Courthouse Virginia joined the celebration by having the children choose their favorite fruits and decorating them. The teachers used the fruits from the dramatic play center to continue the discussion of their favorites. They all enjoyed the celebration and had such fun – they can’t wait until next year!
At Michelle’s Playland in Suffolk Virginia, they started their day with a discussion on the importance of healthy habits and taking care of their bodies. They exercised and danced to “Shakin’ It” by Paragraph Express. They read Al’s Healthy Choices – a couple of times! Their healthy morning snack was apples, cheese and crackers, and water. They were talking about butterflies that week, so their physical activity was moving like butterflies. That afternoon, their outdoor activity was to run races.
So it was another great Healthy Al, Healthy Me Day! And remember that all the resources for these and other activities are always available here.
There’s lots of talk about school readiness, but what does that really mean?
School readiness is more than basic knowledge of language and math, important as these are. Being ready for school means being ready in all areas: physical, cognitive, AND social-emotional. It also helps to come with a positive attitude toward learning.
There are many facets to helping a child prepare for success in school and summer is a good time to support your child’s readiness. These tips can help make the transition a smooth one.
Practical strategies to help kids prepare for daily school life:
Helping hands. Have children take on more responsibility as a member of the household. Together with your child, come up with a list of chores that he can do this summer. Some ideas are tidying up his room, helping with meal clean-up, feeding and brushing a pet, sweeping the kitchen, sorting laundry, making his bed, putting away groceries, planning a meal. Children will have more responsibility at school, so this is good practice. And children thrive when they contribute to and feel like a part of a group.
Fine motor fun. Give children a chance to use scissors, glue, and paints, or build with small blocks or legos. These activities help with fine motor development and spark creativity.
I did it myself! Look for opportunities to let your child do more things herself. Can she order her own lunch, carry a tray, speak to the cashier or librarian, or pack and zip up her backpack? This builds independence and gives her the message that you believe she is capable.
Play. Games that have rules, require waiting, or involve counting are great for practicing self-control, understanding rules, and learning how to take turns. Old favorites like Red Light/Green Light, Mother May I, and Simon Says help children learn the difference between right and wrong, fairness, and delayed gratification.
Silence is golden. If your child is talkative, help him remember to share the talking time. Have a discussion about taking time to listen to others and waiting to talk sometimes. This is another opportunity to work on self-regulation – remembering to stop and think before speaking.
But why? Encourage curiosity, discovery, and exploration. Get books from the library on topics that your child asks questions about. Look things up online together. Try new foods – have taste tests with unusual fruits or vegetables. Be curious yourself and ask questions about how things work, or grow, or fly (weather, nature, animals, space).
Hit the books. Read, read, and read some more. Reading together promotes emerging literacy and language development. And research shows that reading to a child is the single most important activity for building the knowledge required for eventual success in reading. Plus that time together evokes warm feelings about reading and enriches your relationship with your child!
Strategies to support emotional readiness:
Focus on feelings. Listen for the feelings. When your child talks about starting school, stop and listen. Accept all feelings and resist the urge to say “don’t worry” or “there’s nothing to be nervous about” or “you’ll be fine”. Instead of talking him out of his feeling, validate the feeling: “It sounds like you are worried about being in a new classroom. Lots of kids would feel worried about that.” Let that soak in for a minute, then add something like, “Let’s imagine what you think it will look like. Then we can compare that to what we see when we visit.”
Teach kindness and friendship. When reading together or out in the real world, point out and talk about what it means to be a good friend. What does kindness look like? How do friends treat each other? Model kind acts by letting someone go ahead of you in line, keep bottled water in your car and hand them out to folks on the corner asking for help, visit a neighbor, take flowers to a friend for no reason.
Share your memories. Tell stories of starting school or talk about when you started something new. Certainly be genuine, but spend the most time on the positive parts of your experience: making new friends, learning cool things, getting new supplies.
Spend time together. Designate some time when there are no electronic devices and really connect. Spend 15 minutes doing whatever your child chooses (that doesn’t involve technology!); try to have dinner together as often as possible (device-free); take advantage of time in the car to talk and sing together; make time to snuggle.
You child will appreciate your attention during any of these activities. Your positive attitude about starting school will set the tone and help to make it something to look forward to!
“Get back in the game, buddy!” calls out a dedicated dad when he sees his 4-year old athlete poking twigs in the ground to make a stick house.
Hmmm. Two kinds of play here. Soccer and imaginary twig towns.
Remember “Just Playing?”
Today’s young children certainly play more soccer and t-ball. They jump on bouncers, flap parachutes and scarves together, and clamber through ballpits in “play places.” Our children master video games created just for them and many maneuver a smart phone better than adults! There are fewer twig towns out there these days.
Do children play the same way today as we did when we were kids? [ more… ]
Stubborn Refusals and Temper Tantrums Wear Everyone Out
Sometimes children’s emotional storms and “cheerful to tearful” in 10 seconds flat can tire adults out. A tantrum over putting on boots? Wailing when a tower piece won’t fit or sobbing over who was “there first”? It becomes exhausting and frustrating for everyone when children struggle with anger, disappointment, and other “big” feelings.
From an adult perspective, we think, “Really? All this drama over putting on boots? Just put the boots ON!”
Some Children Need to Learn HOW to Calm Down
These struggles look a lot like intentional defiance. However, some children are more emotional by nature than others. And some children need more help learning how to handle big feelings. In the words of one sweet child, “Sometimes when I’m in the middle of a mad, I just can’t get out.”
Good news! Adults can help children master this important life skill. The fieriest four year old can learn to manage her feelings and think before acting. The fiercest five year old can derail a rising temper and choose to stay calm. [ more… ]