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Six Ways to Ease Transitions- Back to School 2022

The seasons are changing, and we’re headed back into one of the biggest transitions -- going from summer to the school year. Yet, it’s not only the big changes that can impact our children. Each day is filled with transitions, and each one has its own challenges. We have six strategies you can use to help your child (and even yourself) with transitions.

1. Identify Transitions: As adults, we can become so used to how the day runs that we become blind to how many transitions we and our children encounter. To help your child, think through the day from their perspective and identify as many changes as you can. Transitions can be physical, like leaving the house in the morning to get onto the school bus. Others are emotional. Ending something fun, like time on a tablet, in order to do personal care like brushing teeth or taking a bath. Ensuring you take the time to reconnect during transitions creates a sense of security around the process.

Transitions can also be layered. Waking up in the morning involves the physical transitions of moving from asleep to awake and from the sensations involved with being in bed to those with leaving it. There can be an emotional transition of going from a sense of safety and relaxation to anxiety and purpose-driven activities. Getting on the school bus is physical but also involves social transitions in leaving the family environment into peer ones and dealing with the emotions that come with the school day.

Somehow transitional periods make us forget how to do things until they are here. This transition happens every year, and unless your child is transitioning to school in a new way (kindergarten, 6th grade, 9th grade, and/or taking the school bus for the first time), this year’s transition should not be too far from what is expected. Remind your child/teen that they have done this transition before. They’ve got this, they can do hard things; you’ve seen it happen.

2. Give Information or Warnings: While we might not be fully the masters of our own destiny as far as scheduling goes, we do have the advantage of being able to forecast the day’s events. This helps us ready ourselves and plan for the transitions we’ll have to make. Depending on their age and individual needs, children may not be able to do this.

Talking through with your children about what the day entails in the morning can help them form an idea of their day and provide security. Other transitions can be eased by giving warnings (“Five minutes left of playing, then we will get shoes on.”) or a heads up (“Today is Monday, and that means Grandma picks you up from school.”)

3. Use Visuals: For younger kids, especially, creating a mental picture of activities or events can be a struggle. Utilizing a visual calendar can be helpful, even if it’s just sketching out pictures of the day’s events while eating breakfast. Visual timers such as sand timers, a digital clock, or even a visual countdown app can help provide a sense of time and help children ready themselves.

4. Make it Playful: Some transitions seem to be consistently harder for some children. That’s where using play can help relieve stress and build a sense of connection and safety. If getting into the bath is a struggle, try pretending to be ducks marching to the pond and singing a song while you do. If ending screen time is a challenge, maybe wrap up the time with a quick game on an app you two play together.

5. Build in Choices: Feeling out of control is a surefire way to increase difficulty around transitions. Choices allow children a higher degree of autonomy and to take part in the responsibility of transitioning. Smaller children get smaller choices, while bigger children get bigger choices. A smaller child might get to choose between two sets of pajamas before bedtime, while an older child can choose to take a bath first or brush teeth first. You can also give the child a choice to have some alone time or quiet time. Sometimes our questions about how the day went can feel intrusive or overwhelming during the car ride transition back home.

6. Name the Feeling: Anxiety around transitions is to be expected; normalize and name the emotions you see based on their behaviors, "I can see you are anxious because you have started chewing your nails again." Make it known that you SEE them and their stress. "You have been more emotional and easy to upset lately, can we talk about the stress that is starting a new school year?" Be curious about any changes you see in your child with them, "tell me a little bit about why you have been quieter lately." When we observe them and attempt to reconnect-no matter the age, a child feels seen and understood. Let them know all feelings are good; choosing to talk about them is even better.

Ultimately, it’s okay to recognize that transitions are just never easy for some kids. There might always need to be consideration given to how the day moves along in order to help them self-regulate. However, bringing a calm, accepting attitude and being curious about what might help can be enough to ease some difficulties. Talk to your children and let them know you see their struggle and that you want to work together to try new ways to make it easier.

Life is full of transitions and change.

Some are known and typical, while others can be surprising or unusual. Consider this another opportunity to help your child learn about themselves and to develop new skills. They don’t learn new skills without you. Working to make daily transitions a bit easier could help your whole family learn better ways to cope with changes - expected and otherwise.

By Morgan Teachworth White & Cary Hamilton

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