Get Psyched Friday: How to Prepare Your Child for Transitions
Friday, August 15, 2014
In her latest Get Psyched Friday, psychologist Eleanor Mackey, PhD, gives advice on how to handle transitions throughout the year.
Transitions, regardless of whether they are wanted or not, are challenging! Following summer comes the transition back to school, which for some years (for example, starting kindergarten, middle school, or high school) marks a huge transition.
Although almost every child will say that they enjoy these transitions, they can bring about stress that parents might not expect. For instance, kids might become clingy, moody, or irritable as they have anxiety about leaving a school or teacher or starting something new in the fall.
So, how can you help your kids with these transitions?
- Talk with your child. Your child may appreciate that you recognize that these transitions, even if welcome, are not easy. It might also help them to identify from where some of their negative feelings are coming. For younger kids, read books about ending or starting school (for example, Franklin, Berenstain Bears, etc) or let them draw pictures about their experience or feelings or act out scenarios with toys/dolls. For older kids, listen carefully without judging or trying to solve the problem. If your child does not want to discuss it, don’t force them to, but let them know you are ready to listen anytime they want to talk.
- Identify stressors and make small changes to help. For example, if your child is bored by the slower pace of summer, schedule some activities or find a way to create more structure. If your child is anxious about leaving old friends behind or making new friends, set up social activities with friends from a previous class or a new class.
- Try a “dress rehearsal” to get them used to the routine or the new location, building, or classroom by letting them check it out ahead of time. Talk about what it will be like. Remind them it can be hard at first but that it will get easier and you will be there to help them. Remind them of how nervous they were the previous year and praise them for how they adjusted then.
As with so many issues, listening openly and warmly to your child’s concerns without making them feel bad, embarrassed, or that they are complaining too much is important. Although some of these issues may seem small to parents, they feel very big to kids.
About the Expert
Eleanor Mackey, PhD, is a child psychologist and works primarily with the Obesity Institute and Children’s Research Institute. Dr. Mackey is also a mother of two young girls. She has been at Children’s National since 2006 and has been a regular contributor to our “Get Psyched Friday” features since 2012.