We all recognize the symptoms: stomach pain, headaches, tears, whining, crying, resistance, talking about same issue over and over and over. The question we wrestle with as parents is, “is this a ploy of going back to school or is it the tip of the iceberg involving something more serious?” A simple answer to this question is if the symptoms above occur for more than 2-4 weeks, it may be a disorder worth addressing or even requiring children’s anxiety counseling, rather than distress of “vacation is over” and it’s back to work.
Transitions of any type equates varying levels of stress, and if you think about it, we all experience numerous transitions all year long: new school year schedule, new calendar year, holiday breaks, Spring and Summer break, friends moving, new boss and coworker, surprise expenses, health flare-ups, changing schools or moving mid-year. Anything new involves the unknown, and the unknown is not predictable. Imaginations and stress feed on blank canvases.
So let’s teach them to turn the emotional down and rational up. Going back to school is not up for discussion; it’s the law and we can’t let this one slide. So how do we get “through” this uncomfortable season with success opposed to losing our composure again, feel guilty about maybe damaging our child because we were not ‘transitioning’ well to them ‘not transitioning.’
How do we help them create a picture of power on their canvas?
1. Help Them Remember
Review with them all the transitions they have walked through with ease. Help them remember that they can enter in transition with unknown variables. This will help them react from a strength opposed to a fear.
2. Prevention, Prevention, Prevention
We know the beginning and end of seasons but they do not. Start early. Prepare your child a couple weeks in advance so they are not surprised. Planning takes the wind out of anxiety by filling in details of fact; anxiety thrives on pondering all the “what ifs” with no information. Start with simple things like back to school necessities, clothing, what they want to wear the first day or have in their lunch box.
3. Give Feelings and Experience a Name
Kids really don’t understand what they are emotionally experiencing. What they do know is it is scary and very uncomfortable experience. By giving it a name, age appropriate, you are validating this is a real feeling and experience, we are not surprised and there is a solution. We need to reaffirm to them that they are not alone and you both will work it out together like all other new things and experiences.
4.Problem Solve: Teach them how to cope
After naming this feeling, explore how they can solve the need in order to feel safe and secure with self. Again, age appropriate. If this is a new skill they are not going to get how to solve this. They need someone to role model the PROCESS, knowing this new skill takes a lot of repetition and practice, years. I know we forget, but this is how we learned as well. With most difficult transitions, kids don’t know what it is going to be like. So if they are transitioning to the 6th grade from Elementary school, then go to the new school, before the crowd, and walk around, meet the clerical staff and create positive new experience as a family. Other ideas include having a picnic on the playground with friends who will also attend the school.
5 Act on Solution Together
Now this is where the rubber hits the road. Do some trial runs with proposed solution(s). Afterward, talk with them about what the experience was like: did it help, what did you notice, what else could we try. The more you can get them to think and make decisions, the more empowered they are going to feel about taking care of themselves when that time arrives.
The goal of this process is not finding a one solution fits all. The goal is that with awareness and intention, identifying needs, brainstorming solutions and acting on solutions, children/youth will learn over time, experience by experience, how to take care of themselves whatever the unknown is. This is what we want for them, but it’s a journey. Be patient with yourself and them.