Here we go … back to school! The one thing we can always count on is change. No matter how hard we try to keep things the same, change happens. We begin, we finish, and we begin again. From birth onward, we experience continuous physical change. Mental, emotional and spiritual change occurs in tandem as we grow and develop awareness of ourselves, our world and others around us. Life is change.
Children are constantly taking new experiences and impressions into their consciousness through their 5 senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting. This incoming information determines how they understand and perceive everything around them. Independently, or all at once, this is a great deal of data for children to continually absorb and process. This overload can stimulate or fatigue a child, create a temporary false fear or even unpredictable meltdowns. When things are new and different for a child and the senses are trigged, emotions are heightened, thoughts are generated and, finally, decisions, reasonable or unreasonable, are made: “I hate school!” And it is only day 3 of the new school year!
This ongoing experience is intensified by the child’s keen intuition, that natural knowing that occurs without thinking, the sixth sense. Children are not only having new and different sensory responses to their own experience, but they are also seeing and sensing their parents’ excitement, apprehension, uncertainty and sometimes bittersweet feelings about letting go. Older children who have an established school routine, may sense parent stress from managing schedules and the numerous responsibilities of having a family.
Children need time for change and the multitude of transitions they encounter throughout their day. Transitions need to be planned and managed for a child until they can learn to do this independently. Most importantly, transitions need to be recognized! For instance, waking up, eating breakfast, washing, brushing teeth, getting dressed, making lunches, gathering belongings to take to the car, getting in the car, driving … getting out of the car, these are all transitions for the youngest children. And how much time and planning do we dedicate to this process? 30 minutes, 1 hour, 2 hours?
Once a child arrives at school, more transitions take place as they begin their physical and social interactions with their environment which includes other children, adults, work, animals, lessons, movement, and play. The day ends and the child transitions back to home; sometimes with sports practice, grocery shopping or other stops along the way. Eventually the day closes only to begin again the next day. All that considered, the first week of school can be VERY BIG when you are 2, 4, 7, 10 or even 13!
As adults who have mastered the transitions of our childhood and youth, we must help children prepare for the ongoing change they experience. We need to model effective practices that help children build skills to manage independently, helping them to be successful each day.
Spend time these first weeks of school establishing healthy routines for:
· Rest and sleep, i.e., naps and earlier bedtimes, unstructured time.
· Family meals that include sitting down together for a period of time, talking and laughing.
· Prepping lunches the night before or over the weekend with your child(ren).
· Including children’s ideas to develop or improve home routines.
· Employing children’s assistance with meals, clean-up, laundry, house, and garden chores; work side by side.
· Arriving comfortably at school and saying goodbye to parents confidently.
· Practicing punctuality, err on the side of too early rather than too late, whether arriving or picking-up, it is respectful to the child to be prompt.
· Guiding children with encouragement rather than praise.
· Celebrating successes; talk about what went well and problem solve solutions to improve things that aren’t working, i.e., how can we help each other do this a little better next week?
Adults can use these strategies with even the youngest of children, it takes time, patience, flexibility, and a willingness to not get it right the first time.