Helping Kids Transition in Times of Uncertainty
Soon parents will face the challenge of helping their kids manage the changes that come with transitioning from structured school days to boundless summer days, and then back to a new, uncertain school environment next year. These two routine transitions are particularly difficult this year because the details of summer camp and travel opportunities and our return to school in the Fall are all uncertain at this point. Transitions are an inevitable part of life. Therefore, learning to deal with them in healthy ways is an essential life skill. Whether your child is moving into a different level at Synapse, going from Lower School to Middle School, or graduating from Synapse and embarking onto high school, some basic principles will apply when it comes to supporting their transitions.
This week, we offer 8 tips on how to manage these transitions alongside your child. We can model for them some healthy ways to deal with the ambiguous circumstances.
Tip #1 : Allow your child (and yourself) to feel the stress
EQ Competencies Practiced: Enhance Emotional Literacy, Apply Consequential Thinking, Exercise Optimism
Tip #2 : Separate your feelings from your child’s feelings
Try to separate your own fears from your child’s so you don’t add fuel to the anxiety. As parents, we may have had transitions from our childhood that were emotionally charged. The memories - both negative and positive - may have imprinted a set of triggers that get set into play when we think about changes. Sometimes we may know the triggers and sometimes we do not. It may be helpful to check with other trusted parents, friends, family, or professionals to reflect to you these patterns that are sometimes hard to see in yourself and ask about how they may deal with similar transitions.
One way to figure out our own pattern is to fill in this pattern statement:
When [stimulus], I [typical response].
When I enter a new situation, I get anxious about not knowing.
When my child is anxious, I am driven to fix the problem.
When I am stressed, I move fast and may overreact.
When I am stressed, I tend to freeze because I am unsure about how to act.
A question to consider is: How might understanding my pattern help me be a better parent?
EQ Competencies Practiced: Enhance Emotional Literacy, Recognize Patterns, Apply Consequential Thinking
Tip # 3 : Set Up Playdates in the Summer
While much is still unknown about how we may socialize in the coming weeks and months, try to do a Zoom meeting or a physical distancing playdate at a park. During the summer, the school will assign you a host family who will show you the ropes and answer all your questions. There will be a myriad of ways to get involved with the community once the school year starts, which is a great way to help your child transition.
Here is a splendid book on Growing Friendships. For ages 6-12, your kid can read it alone or with you. There are great true-to-life scenarios that can facilitate dynamic discussions.
However, if friendship is a sensitive area for your child, try not to put more pressure into an already tough situation. Hold off on the friendship lessons and just focus on helping them find connection through common interests and shared experiences with their new classmates.
EQ Competencies Practiced: Recognize Patterns, Navigate Emotions, Increase Empathy
Tip # 4 : Keep Familiar Routines and Rituals
Sticking with as many familiar routines or rituals as possible will make those first days back less overwhelming. Play it cool and treat day one like any other first day of school. After everyone is settled in, celebrate the successful transition.
Check out these books on anxiety from Books That Heal Kids.
EQ Competencies Practiced: Recognize Patterns, Navigate Emotions, Exercise Optimism
Tip # 5 : Nurture the Teacher-Parent Partnership
Start building the partnership with teachers early in the year so you can support your child to thrive. You will talk to your teachers about your hopes, dreams and concerns at the first listening parent and teacher conferences.
If your child has special needs of any kind, connect with teachers or specialists that you think will benefit from learning more about your child before school starts. If your child has an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or needs special services, please share that with your teachers.
EQ Competencies Practiced: Recognize Patterns, Exercise Optimism, Increase Empathy
Tip # 6 : Slow the Roll of Activities
When children transition into a new situation, it can be overwhelming to adjust to a new schedule, set of teachers, workload, and friend group. Rituals and routines can be helpful, but if it is adding too much onto your family’s plate at that time, then slow down the pace by pausing some activities to give your family some time to breathe and adjust.
EQ Competencies Practiced: Apply Consequential Thinking, Exercise Intrinsic Motivation, Increase Empathy
Tip # 7 : Prioritize Sleep
Adequate sleep will help your child cope with anxiety healthily and process novel experiences. How much sleep is enough?
- American Association of Sleep Medicine - Make Time 2 Sleep Bedtime Calculator
- National Sleep Foundation Recommendations
- Sleep Education for School - Healthy Sleep Duration
To help your child get the sleep they need, limit stimulating activities like screen time before bed and try to follow a bedtime routine, schedule in 60 minutes of exercise per day, and prevent caffeine consumption. During sleep hours, make sure their bedroom is cool, dark and quiet. It is best to get into a school sleep routine a week or two before school starts.
EQ Competencies Practiced: Recognize Patterns, Apply Consequential Thinking, Pursue Noble Goals
Tip # 8 : Listen and Be Patient
At the end of each summer and school day, listen to your child. Don’t ask too many questions. If your child doesn't open up easily, try to find quiet moments to sit together and read or play a game. It is a brilliant way to see how they are feeling, even if they don’t talk about their day. Give your child time and space to come forth with details by letting them know you are available when they are ready. If a usually willing sharer is not opening up, then you might want to check in with their teacher.
If your child raises any concerns, ask first if they want to reach out to their teacher or leave it be. If your child would like to communicate their needs to their teacher, then assist them by coaching them on how to self-advocate. This is a Synapse Learning Outcome (SLO) that they will practice extensively at school, and it starts with the first days of school.
EQ Competencies Practiced: Recognize Patterns, Navigating Emotions, Increase Empathy