Ever notice that one of your kids (or two or three or four . . .) are a bit “extra” this time of year? Most years I find the short-tempered, ornery behavior in spring a bit perplexing and more than a bit frustrating. This is especially true for my teens who are counting down the days of summer. School is over in a few weeks, why aren’t they thrilled?
The trouble with transitions is that it makes no difference whether your kid loves school or can’t wait for summer, transitions can still be hard! This is especially true if you have a child or teen who really thrives on structure. Even if there are parts of school that are not their jam, school is the most predictable structure in our children’s life. By May, they know their teachers well. They are in a rhythm with A and B days, elective rotations, book check out day, the lunch choice rotation . . . even if we still have no clue what day they have band!
Some of our kids who struggle in social situations may thrive in the academic structure of school days. School becomes their safe place, even if it’s not “cool” to admit that they enjoy it. Even when we spend countless hours pouring over the amazing camp options in our area and countless dollars enrolling them, navigating the social jungle without the comforts of academic tasks they feel confident in can be very intimidating.
The good news is that transitions will eventually end and we will always find the new normal. With our love and support, our kids will be just fine (and so will we!). Here are some tips for navigating transitions this summer!
Some children can become very attached to their teachers. This is especially true for preschool and elementary students. They often spend more waking hours with their teachers than they do with us. They have spent 10 months building strong, trusting relationships with these adults, and it can be unsettling to stop seeing them five days a week with no tapering down.
If you have a child attending overnight camp, now that the snow has melted camp becomes much more “real” to them. As a former camp director my phone rang non-stop in April and May. Parents were baffled by their kids who were struggling with unexpected nerves about going to camp. Yes, this is expected for new campers, but it can happen to veteran campers as well. After all, it makes sense to have mixed feelings when you are going to be leaving your loving home environment and family for an extended amount of time!
Sometimes it has nothing to do with any of the above and it’s simply the “change” itself. Many children, teens, and even adults struggle with the unknown. Your kids may be verbalizing excitement about the warm, lazy, and exciting days of summer and announce the amount of days left of the school year daily AND they still may struggle with visualizing what those days will look like. This can be a major source of anxiety!
What to Expect
What kind of behaviors can you expect if you have a kid who is sensitive to transitions and change? You may notice less patience, increased sensitivity, and mixed feelings about school ending. In preparation for “separating” from teachers and school peers, some kids may start complaining about people you know they adore. This separating behavior is actually a subconscious attempt at making the separation less painful. After all, wouldn’t it be easier to be separated from people they don’t like? Some kids may be inundating you with hundreds of repetitive questions about their summer schedule!
If you are reading this nodding your head in agreement, you may be wondering, “What the heck do I do about this to make it easier for my child AND for me?” The answer is pretty simple: follow their lead. If they want to talk about it, listen. Hold yourself back from jumping in with “fixes.” Instead, ask them, “Do you want to vent, or do you want suggestions?” This simple question will be very much appreciated, especially if you have teens and tweens. After all, they don’t like any of your advice anyhow (based on a true story)!
How to Ease This Transition for Your Kids (and You!)
Every child will handle their transition woes differently. Some will want to talk and be listened to. Others may want ideas and comfort. And, some other kids won’t want to talk about it at all. If your child is asking an avalanche of questions about the summer, they may benefit from creating a calendar of what their days will look each week. You don’t have to have them scheduled in ten minute increments; however, you can share a daily routine.
For example, if your child will be at different camps, you can show those on the June, July, and August calendars. If your child will be home with you, you could color code the days you will be at the lake, or the ones you will be visiting the library or spending time with family. Even a lose structure can be reassuring.
If you have multiple children, don’t forget that you can parent different kids in the same house different ways. Yes, it’s not easy, and yes, it is possible! Before you jump in with a plan, take a step back; watch, listen, and follow their lead. If one of your children benefits from “talking it out” and the other finds it anxiety-provoking to talk about July in May, have the summer discussions privately. You can even explain to your child that you will schedule special 1:1 time to do this before bed or when you are alone with them in the car driving them to an activity.
What if you do all of the above and those kids of yours are still ornery and more challenging than usual? I’ll be honest, that very well may happen. It’s very natural, though it’s not very pleasant for us. My best advice in this situation is to take care of yourself. Remember what you can control and what you can’t. Take deep breaths, spend two extra minutes on your yoga mat, order more take out . . . take care of yourself, whatever that means to you, and remember the best part of transitions is that they are transient and eventually end.