By Anna Kettle, Crosswalk.com
With the summer rapidly drawing to a close, I can feel my focus shifting away from concerns over how to fill all those long summer days with kids at home and onto preparations for the start of the new school year.
For many parents, this seasonal change triggers a long to-do list to prepare kids for the new term ahead. There are summer projects to finish, homework assignments to complete, new timetables to plan for, and family schedules to figure out, not to mention all that new school kit to buy.
But in the busyness of the planning and organizing, it can be easy to overlook the whole range of emotions that a child might feel about the new term. Whether starting at a brand new school or returning to school but having to adjust to new teachers, build new relationships, or adapt to increasing independent studying – there are lots of transitions at this time of year.
As a parent of a child with ADHD, I've perhaps become more tuned into thinking about how small changes can affect my child than many parents. I've learned that even relatively small changes in his routine can spark big feelings of stress or anxiety – though, at just age 7, this can be hard for him to recognize or articulate himself. Instead, it often manifests as sudden emotional outbursts, compulsive behaviors, or tics as he tries to manage feelings of being slightly out of control.
But struggling with change isn't unique to children who are neuro-diverse or have special educational needs. Times of transition can be unsettling for all of us – and even when we know that the change ahead will ultimately be good, anything that causes us some uncertainty about the future can still cause significant stress.
So as we enter this season of transition into a new school year, we need to remember to go easy – both on ourselves and our kids. Change is always hard, and we need to do whatever we can to help everyone in the family feel understood, supported, and seen.
Below are eight simple, practical tips for navigating seasons of transition, such as going back to school well, which you can explore together as a family:
1. Talk about It
Children will naturally start to feel nervous or out of control if changes are discussed around them, without being fully explained. So don't keep referring to going 'back to school' in passing conversation or haphazardly; instead introduce the idea over an intentional discussion and explain exactly what it will mean.
Try to create an unrushed space for this discussion, such as during a long car journey or perhaps over a family meal, where you can discuss the transition without interruption. Let them know what will be changing and what will remain the same – and be sure to leave space in the discussion to ask how they feel about it too.
2. Use Visual Cues
If the uncertainty of change tends to cause anxiety or stress, then one way to minimize this impact is to provide your kids with plenty of information so that they can feel more mentally prepared for their new school or class.
While verbal explanations may be enough for slightly older children, younger children and those with additional needs will often struggle to retain what you are sharing – so you might find it helpful to use visual cues such as a summer calendar or chart to help them countdown to the transition day.
3. Create Space to Process Feelings
Why not introduce age-appropriate tools to help your kids identify and process their feelings about any changes? For older children, learning to journal could be ideal. There are lots of options that you can buy online now, and some come with simple questions and prompts.
Meanwhile, a simple reflections box can be really effective for younger children as part of bedtime prayers. Ours is homemade and has little colored paper slips in it. Each one contains a simple question or prayer suggestion such as: Tell God about something you felt sad or worried about today. It's something my son finds fun, but it also opens up many insightful conversations.
4. Be Well Prepared
Although it might be tempting to leave shopping for a new pair of shoes until a few days before school starts, especially when your kids never stop growing, try not to leave it this late! Last-minute dashes and panic buys often add to everyone's stress levels!
Also, some teachers may have set some homework, projects, or reading to do over the summer holidays – so again, check and complete it early to avoid any additional upheaval, last-minute tears, or frustration! The last thing you want to do is add to your child's anxiety on their first day.
5. Try to Stay Connected
Other families and friends are often here, there, and everywhere during the summer break, and meeting up with classmates isn't always easy. But if you can, try to arrange some playdates or days out with some of your child's friends to help them stay connected - especially if they are still little and can't connect over personal devices or technology.
Again, time with friends can help reassure them and relieve any anxiety about returning to school. It can help remind them they're not alone, and maybe they can share how they're feeling with the friend if they want – but don't force it! Often just the connection helps in itself.
6. Get Routine Ready
Transitioning from a summer pace back into a school schedule can be a real shock to the system for everyone in the family when a new term suddenly starts! So why not try to minimize the stress by getting routine-ready a few days earlier?
You could practice your morning rituals with little ones by going to bed earlier or getting up earlier a week before school starts. Also, if your mornings tend to involve lots of nagging and persuading your child to get ready, why not try some practice runs? Set your child's alarm to school time before the first day and start to establish a regular morning routine in preparation.
7. Talk it Up
Before the new school term starts, try to get your kids excited about the changes by talking positively about what they can specifically expect, including snacks, playground time, reading, lunch, computers, singing, sports or art. You know what your child enjoys best – so make sure you really focus on whatever their interests are!
You could also share your own stories about things you loved about school. Also, if you know other children who will be in the same class or school, be sure to mention that too.
8. Pray for Your Child
As parents, we are committed to fighting for our kids. We tend to be quick to leap to their defense when others attack them or to advocate for what they need in terms of support from teachers or health professionals.
But prayer is one of the very best weapons we have as parents. In fact, it should be our first line of defense against all of the enemy's schemes. So pray lots for your child, daily if possible – especially during times of transition. Pray for protection over their heart and for peace over their minds.
A Final Thought
These suggestions are about making something unknown feel more familiar before the first day of term, but try not to see this as the end goal. Keep communicating and reassuring your child, even once the new term has started. Instead, keep on asking them how they are feeling, and how they are getting on.
Remember that often it's the small things you do that make all the difference: so keep talking, texting, listening, hearing, hugging, sympathizing, smiling, reassuring, checking, sharing, suggesting, and encouraging – day by day by day.
Anna Kettle is a Christian author, blogger, speaker, and an award-winning marketing professional. Her first devotional book, ‘Sand Between Your Toes: Inspirations for a Slower, Simpler, More Soulful Life’ released earlier this year under Tyndale House. She is also a co-founder of SPACE, a UK-based miscarriage & infertility support network for women. Anna is a coffee lover, bookworm, travel enthusiast, music fan, keen foodie, gatherer of people, a miscarriage warrior, and a big believer in the healing power of words. She is married to husband Andy, and mom to their little boy Ben who is 6.
You can find more of her writing at www.annakettle.com or at www.thereisspaceforyouhere.com