Whether your child is starting a new school, beginning new classes or you simply feel the passing of the summer months, September marks a new season. For most children and families, it brings new routines and new commitments. Change!
Young children rarely accept “change” like a easy on-off switch: turn off the old schedule – turn on the new. Children usually take three steps forward and one back as they build confidence and skills in new situations with new expectations. Just like an artist painting an original self-portrait, your child is making every new experience their own original story.
Parents need extra patience as children learn and adapt with time. Yes, back-to-school lasts through the month of September. Three steps forward; one step back – cha, cha, cha.
Support the changes:
- Verbally – have a simple mantra that gives your child the clear message that you believe in this new experience. E.G. I love you and can’t wait to see you after school. Or, every day there’s at least one fun new thing to do at school – see if you can find it and tell me all about it when I pick you up.
- Cognitively – play sequence games to help your child gain control over the new routines. E.G. make photo “flash cards” or a personalized photo book of 8-10 photos of the new routine (Morning home time, car ride, front of school, entering classroom, favorite places in classroom, smiling teacher, school friends, afternoon car ride, hugs at home – yay…great day!) Your child gains confidence and security every time he reads his book or sequences his “school” cards.
- Emotionally – Accept all your child’s feelings as part of the transition. Allow your child to feel sad, angry, frustrated, or confused before feeling “in control” again. Create safe spaces to be held, soothed, and reassured instead of trying to “fix” negative emotions. After your child feels understood, you can role play or problem solve strategies to ease stress. Also add storybooks and songs that reflect your child’s emotions. As he understands his feelings, he can feel calm enough to begin to move forward.
- Socially – Reassure your child that he belongs to a loving family, a happy classroom, a fun school, and a wonderful world where he is needed, wanted and loved. E.G. Tell him that his teacher and his school friends miss him when he isn’t there and can’t wait to see him. Help him to visualize all the fun things he can do with others and help him prepare for the new social settings.
Help your child to manage the changes:
- Keep other routines simple and predictable, especially meals and bedtimes. They will become the anchors in a day that is a bit confusing and uncertain to your child (while still an age-appropriate challenge)
- Add in low-key “time-in” together. Slow down. Be 100% present. Do nothing except be together with your child in open-ended play or snuggling in a big comfy chair. If possible, have the Together Time at the same time every day – before breakfast, before dinner, or after bath.
- Add time for emotionally soothing age-appropriate play. E.G. play dough banging and squishing releases frustration and demanding expectations. Water play rejuvenates worn down bodies and minds (bathtub, hose & watering cans, car washing – toy washing, or a water bin with boats) Nature play brings heart-mind-body back together after they’ve been stretched in new directions (climbing, rolling in grass, finding bugs or digging in dirt).
Some children eagerly embrace change while others tip toe forward. Still others resist loudly and forcefully until that one day when they decide for themselves, it’s going to okay! It’s long journey from September to May – new experiences, new people and lots of growing. It is going to be okay.