School Transitions: Hell for All
~By Tamara Kaldor, Developmental Therapist, Chicago Play Project
Do you know Super Mom? She’s the one at the park, in the gym locker room, or on the sidelines of the soccer game telling you how much her kids looooove being back in school. You know the gal I’m talking about, the one whose kids never throw tantrums in the morning and fall asleep alone every night as soon as their little angelic heads hit the pillow. Are you ready to learn a secret? She’s fooling you – and herself– about those transitions being easy.
I’ve worked with hundreds of families over the past decade. And I can assure you that September and October feel like Mommy and Daddy Bootcamp for most parents. Here’s another tidbit you may not have known: it takes most children two to three months to settle in at school. You read that correctly. It can take two to three months for kids to acclimate to their new routines, learn how to best meet their teachers’ expectations, and feel fully comfortable in their new environments.
During this transitional period, how do we drop the kid off at school, work, squeeze in some time at the gym, prepare meals, and get all that mojo on that Wendy loves to write about?
First off, take a very deep breath and realize that you are not alone. When you notice that your little one is out of sorts, don’t assume the worst. Instead, try having a chat with your child’s teacher to see what he or she notices and recommends. Teachers frequently observe separation anxiety and recognize when children are having difficulty with transitions. When you involve the teacher in the process, you’re opening up the lines of communication and creating consistency to support your child’s development.
Here are some other tried and true tips for helping you and your kids survive the transition to preschool and kindergarten:
1. Plan the day’s schedule together
Go over the schedule for the day by creating a simple visual schedule for your child. One great option is the Routinely app. For $4.99, it will save your sanity and you can pull it up on your phone or tablet to remind your child of what’s coming next during the day. This will give your child a sense of control by allowing him or her to help create the plan for the day.
2. Give warnings
Give 5- to 10-minute warnings before your child needs to start a new task or make a transition. You can use a portable kitchen timer or try this Stop-Go timer app (for free!). Most children need extra time when learning new routines, and a warning will make the process less abrupt and frustrating, for them and for you.
3. Engage in role play
Are you noticing that your child seems to be experiencing separation anxiety? Get out some favorite stuffed animals or dolls. Play school with your child and see what happens. You can include drop-off and pick-up as one of the story lines. Let your child be the director and see where the conversation takes you.
Pretend play feels very safe for most children as they acclimate to new roles and routines in real life. They use it as a vehicle for learning and a way to reinforce roles in their homes, schools, and communities. You will discover a lot about how your child views his or her role in the world by listening and participating in your child’s pretend world.
4. Supply a few photos or charms
Some children have a very difficult time picturing their parents when they’re not with them. When this is the case, a picture of their parents in their pocket or by their bedside is a gentle reassurance that they will see mom and dad again soon.
Along these lines, children might need something tangible to help ward off the stress and anxiety of being in a new environment. I often help kids find or make a very small or unique object that they can put inside their pockets and touch during the day or while falling asleep at night. Something soft and squeezable is usually best. I especially like the Kimochi feelings pillows or nesting hearts.
Please check with your child’s teachers to find out if carrying objects or photos is allowed.
5. Ignore, ignore, and ignore other parents’ blather
Finally – and this is probably the most important piece of advice I can give you – ignore other parents when they start playing the comparison game. Each child develops at his or her own pace. Trust and listen to your parent intuition about what feels right for your home and family. The main key to success is consistency. Find out what works for your family and stick to it as much as you can.
If in a few months you and your child’s teacher are still observing troubling behaviors in your child, talk to an expert. While some separation anxiety and difficulty with transitions are a normal part of development, others may be red flags for deeper developmental concerns, such as sensory processing disorder (SPD).
What you may not know is that pediatricians and teachers are still being trained to recognize and appropriately support some of the signs of SPD and many of the social-emotional challenges with which children and parents struggle. Chicago PLAY Project, which I lead, is always here to help.
You can contact me at email@example.com to discuss any concerns about your child’s development and behavior. Free developmental screenings are available.
Here are some other events where you can find me as well:
* October 20th and 26 at Whole Foods, Lincoln Park: Discipline and Potty Training
* October 20, 9am-10am: Discipline That Really Works for Your Family
Can Mommy have a time-out now too? Discuss and learn several effective discipline strategies for use at home and in the grocery aisles.
* October 26, 9am-10am: Done and Done with Diapers
Potty training for all kids, including those with developmental differences.
Single class: $5 for Wellness Club members; $20 for non-members. Series of three classes: $10 for Wellness Club members; $45 for non-members. Registration is recommended. Please firstname.lastname@example.org or call 312-202-6444.
Image courtesy of koratmember / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.