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. Teach it 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!