‘They’ say that change is as good as a holiday. But when the holiday is over and change is going back to work, school and routine, ‘They’ don’t really say much. So here we go into the beginning of another year. Whether we are the parents who are breathing a collective sigh of relief in anticipation of the school bell or we are the parents who mourn the return to school lunches, extra murals and homework, we all can do with a little bit of help in easing our children and ourselves through this transition.
It is a good idea to talk about what’s coming up, this includes the practicalities as well as the different feelings. Talking about what’s going to happen helps us and our kids feel more prepared for forthcoming attractions and gives the opportunity to problem solve around potential challenges or disappointments. We can chat to our kids about which friends they would really like to have in their class and who they would prefer not to have in their class, which teachers they want and the ones they want to avoid. These are very real concerns for them. We can help them think about how they will cope with perceived disappointments. We can also reassure them that different children connect with different teachers differently and therefore teacher reputations are not cast in stone. We can remind them that whilst it may be very upsetting to not have their best friendswith them, there is an opportunity to connect with new kids and still hang out with besties at break time. We can talk about what we would like to do differently from last year and the things that worked well that we are planning to keep on doing. It’s good to think things through and talk them over.
It can be comforting for a child to know that it is perfectly normal to feel whatever they are feeling about school – be it unsettling tummy aching dread or gleeful excitement and most likely bit ‘nexcited’(nervous+excited) a bit nervous about some stuff and a bit excited about other stuff. We must not minimise their fears and concerns, we need to acknowledge them as real allowing them the space to express those feelings and think through how to cope with them. With younger kids, if the dread persists after the first week of school it is a good idea to alert the teacher and see if there is some way that you can together work out how to ease the transition – for example, it may mean their teacher giving your child a special job to do in the mornings, it may mean having a special goodbye ritual. For older kids, it is important to help them figure out what’s going on and think through how they can cope better. We need to be careful of not jumping in too quickly to fix and giving them and their teachers the space to work things out. Obviously, seek help if things appear to be excessively challenging.
Acknowledge the good
When kids are coping well with changes, we should acknowledge how well they are coping. We often forget to do that part. It helps them become aware of their coping resources and this can impact on how they perceive their ability to manage future changes. When they are finding things hard, remind them about a time when they got through a big change even though they found it hard at first.
Expect the expected
I’d like to say expect the unexpected but truth is we can expect irritability, tiredness, challenging behaviour, pushing boundaries etc….and that’s just from us! Seriously we need to brace ourselves for a bit of transition backlash. When my younger son started grade 1 last year, I bumped into his teacher as I was fetching him in the first few weeks of school. She shared that he was coping so well and was enthusiastic, cooperative and excited about being in class. True this was parental glow stuff and I would’ve basked in the glow had it not been seriously tainted by that same Grade 1 kid turning into a monster on his return home in the afternoons. Let’s just say ‘cooperative’ didn’t even register on our radar. I chatted to him about this as we were leaving school that day as he had overheard his teacher’s warm words. I asked him if he was finding it quite hard to keep it together the whole day at school and with utter relief, he said “Yes”. He said that he must concentrate hard and that he feels like he must sit up straight all the time and that it was really tiring. Of course, every fibre of my being wanted to scream “Just slouch a bit at school so we can restore some calm at home!” For the record, I didn’t shout that. It was a good reminder to me that he genuinely was adjusting to a new situation. This did not excuse his behaviour and it didn’t mean that I just ignored it but it did help to know where it was coming from and helped a little in how I responded (sometimes).
Some important practicalities that can help:
- Sleep – Holiday time means late nights and adjusted sleeping patterns. We need to help ensure that our kids are getting to bed early enough so that they are getting enough sleep. Of course, if we are also getting enough sleep we are better positioned to deal with those afternoon monsters.
- Routines – We don’t need to get completely and ridiculously anal as in: 6.55 finish dinner, 6.58pm plates are taken to the kitchen. But it helps to have anchoring structures in place that help everyone know in a predictable and settling way, when things are going to happen.
- Organisation– get as much ready beforehand as you can so there isn’t a chaotic mad last minute dash which only exacerbates anxious feelings.
- Boundaries – ensure that you maintain good boundaries at home. Don’t leave it all up to school to instil a sense of boundaries.
- Connection and Laughter-most importantly we must prioritise making time to laugh and connect with our kids by being present and engaged.
May our transitions be smooth and if they aren’t let’s hope we have the inner resources to support ourselves and our kids through tricky patches and to seek help when we need it if things are really hard. Imagine, maybe ‘they’ are right… hope so… may our changes be as good as a holiday!