I think one of the most stressful times in our lives can be the transitions that happen when you graduate from one school to enter the next chapter of your life. Whether it is graduating from Pre-K to go to kindergarten or from high school to go to college, the stress of this change is deeply felt at every age. Often there is cognitive dissonance or tension between wanting to remain in a place that is familiar and comfortable and wanting new experiences and challenges. Change can seem overwhelming, even when it is something your child has wanted.
Transitions are times of celebration of accomplishments, mastery of skills, and maturation. By the time graduation rolls around, most children are ready for the next chapter of their lives. It is important to keep reminding yourself and your child of this very important fact as you negotiate the upcoming change.
We often see a variety of behaviors in children as transitions or graduations approach.
- They can be overly emotional and can be easily weepy, frustrated, or snippy.
- Their executive functioning skills such as following multi-step directions, time management, and inhibition seem suddenly lacking.
- They are incredibly negative whether it is about their current school or the school they will be attending.
- Long-time friendships seem to dissolve and new ones form.
- They are fearful of their new environment such as the ability to make new friends, living up to the expectations of being in a more advanced grade, not knowing their way around the school, or understanding their schedule.
- Students tend to quibble with their peers, teachers, and family members about seemingly irrational, unimportant issues and details. They have to be right and “win” the argument.
As a parent, it is really important to understand that these behaviors, although incredibly challenging, are very normal. I recommend taking a deep breath and considering some of the following ideas:
- Employ strategies that have worked in the past such as the use of checklists, setting reminders on their phone, creating a calendar that lists important details to remember and upcoming events, etc.
- Look beyond their actions and negativity and try to actively listen to what might be bothering them. Allow a little time between a “snit” so your child can calm down. Later, ask, “So what’s going on? You seem to be having a hard time. What can I do to help?”
- Problem-solve. If your child is graduating from middle school and going to a high school that is different from her best friend, brainstorm ways that they can (realistically) stay in touch. (Facetime is a good way for kids to see each other.)
- If they are in the mood to quibble, simply say, “You seem to be having a hard time but I am not going to talk about this anymore.” And walk away.
- Help your child acclimate to their new school. Tour (or ask for a video tour) the school, ask if you can have the names and phone numbers of kids in your child’s class who might be a good match and set up times over the summer to get together, look at newsletters/the school website/youtube videos together so your child can visualize the new surroundings a little more easily, and ask if you can have a copy of your child’s schedule so together you can mentally rehearse each day.
- If your child’s behaviors are alarming and seem to be accelerating, reach out to their teachers, school administration, or their counselor for some help.
Most importantly, be empathetic. Do not try to minimalize your child’s stress about changing schools. Instead, validate their feelings and reiterate that while the transition may seem hard right now, you have every confidence that they are ready for this change. The more you panic, they will panic.
Wishing you smooth transitions!
Meg Bamford is Head of the Radcliffe Creek School in Chestertown.