The transition back to school can be a challenge for both children and parents alike. With the start of a new school year, comes many new adjustments – new classroom, new teacher, new peers, maybe even a new school altogether. During the school day, children continue to experience new transitions between classes and tasks all throughout their day. It’s definitely a transition-overload. For parents, additional school-year responsibilities can increase the overall stress level in the home with the return of hurried mornings for getting everyone to where they need to be on time.
Transitions can be especially difficult when we are transitioning away from something we enjoy (slow-paced summer fun) and toward something less enjoyable (early wake-up times and the return of homework). It’s not surprising that many people struggle with this change in routine and the extra demands the school year places on us.
What does this look like?
1. Avoidance: For some kids, they may cope with the pressure of going back to school by procrastinating, avoiding, or delaying anything related to the transition. It’s the last week of summer and your teen has yet to begin their summer projects. When you attempt to talk with your child about their new middle school, they minimize and avoid the conversation. For your little one, they find anything possible to delay your departure the morning of the first day of school.
2. Internalized Symptoms: For other kids, they may experience what I call “quiet” struggles regarding their upcoming transition. These may include difficulty sleeping, intense worrying, and stomachaches, or they may become quiet and withdrawn. You may notice a change in their diet or their personality.
3. Externalized Symptoms: Lastly, some children openly demonstrate their difficulty transitioning. These kiddos may act irritable or have tantrums, meltdowns, and even downright outbursts.
What’s underneath the behavior?
At Creative Family Counseling, we view childhood emotional and behavioral challenges as a clue to a need that is not currently being met. When we help the child and family meet that need, the problematic behavior or symptom resolves. With transitions come fear of the unknown, lack of predictability, and the lack of skills to manage the emotions about these stressors. Simply put, big changes = big feelings = big behaviors.
How can you help?
Here are 6 ways to prepare for and minimize the challenge of your upcoming transition back to school:
1. Listen: Create an inviting and empathetic space to hear how they’re feeling about the upcoming changes. Ask questions like “What are you excited about? What are you worried about? What are you looking forward to? What are you dreading?”
2. Create a New Routine: As creatures of habit, it may be helpful to practice your new bedtime and morning routines before the first day of school. This will allow you to sort out kinks in your plans before the actual big day. It also gives children a chance to see what to expect, which creates safety and predictability for them. Creating a routine chart (a list of or pictures of tasks to complete) to use the first few days will be helpful to get people out the door on time without you having to repeat the instructions over and over. You simply ask, “What’s next on your routine chart?”
3. Focus on Solutions: As you practice your new routines and discover problems to your school-year-schedule, have a family meeting to discuss potential solutions. Allow everyone to offer suggestions for a solution and together, pick the one that works for everyone. Try the solution the next day and evaluate together if it worked. If it didn’t, start over.
4. Connect: With all this stress talk, it may be time to take a break from business and enjoy some last minute summer fun. Turn on some music and lighten the mood with a dance party. Take a last minute trip for ice-cream. Find a way to connect with one another.
5. Control Your Own Behavior: Remember the equation big changes = big feelings = big behaviors? That applies to parents too. Be sure you’re managing your big feelings in healthy ways and modeling self care and respect of others, even when you’re overwhelmed or stressed. And when you do fall short (because we all do), be sure to apologize to repair your relationship.
6. Schedule a Transition Prep Action Plan Session: The Creative Family Counseling Team offers Transition Prep Action Plan Sessions, focused on preparing families for transitions such as this one. If your family could use some additional solution-focused support, our team members can help you plan for, manage, and overcome the challenges, emotions, and behaviors associated with family transitions. Give us a call and we’ll get you on the schedule with one of our talented child and family counselors!