With summer break drawing to an end, it is time to gear up for a transition to a new school year.
Transition, particularly for the younger ones, can be daunting. It carries with it muddled feelings of excitement and nervousness - which may result in unexplainable changes in behavior, mood and appetite. Surprisingly, it is not the children alone who experience such feelings. As adults, we are equally prone to them. Recall switching jobs? First day at the new workplace? Having to adjust to a new neighborhood? Relocating? The only difference is that as parents, it is our children who seek validation for those feelings, through us.
Here are some ways to help ease anxiety and allow for a smoother transition to the new school year.
1. Address needs directly.
Acknowledgement comes before acceptance. Allow yourself and your child to experience the stress of beginning the new school year together. Talk to your child. Ask them how they feel about starting the new school year. Here are some questions to start to conversations:
- What are they fearful of?
- What's the biggest worry on their mind?
- What is it that they are looking forward to the most?
- How would they like to be supported through the process?
- What can help them feel positive about new surroundings and circumstances?
Communication is the key to understanding their emotional needs during this transitional phase.
2. Use stories to provide insight.
Sometimes it can be difficult as parents to find the right words to offer support and guidance to our children. Reading a story can help parents speak to their hearts - even if the sentiments are “borrowed” from the author of the book. Here are two great examples that fit the occasion:
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn (or the Early Childhood Years, Ages 3-7)
This heartwarming book is bound to come in handy at times of separation, whether it is associated with the starting of school, entering daycare, or going to camp.
Growing Friendships by Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Christine McLaughlin (Suitable for children transitioning to a new elementary school, Ages 6-12 years)
This book talks about how strong friendships matter deeply to children and are often most likely the reason for unsettling anxiety in children falling under this age bracket. It also helps children learn to be open to friendship, choose kind friends, and, most importantly, be a good friend.
3. Share your own experiences.
You may choose to talk about both positive and negative aspects of transitioning to a new school and how you were able to overcome your own fears. Be mindful of your body language and expressions though, as you do not want to transfer your fears onto them. It may be a good idea to discuss how change forms an inevitable part of our lives and helps us evolve. Making comparisons to other creations of Allah, which go through significant changes during their life cycles, such as butterflies, can help nurture resilience and ease transition.
4. Try role playing.
This works really well with younger children. Depending on whether they will be transitioning from a home setting to Kindergarten or advancing from one grade to another, you need to support your children into getting back into their school routine.
Creating a playful experience for them (in simulation) can be greatly beneficial. For example,they need to get accustomed to more stringent routines and be able to do things more independently. It may require shifting to a bigger classroom and an even bigger playground or getting used to shorter breaks and snack times.
For this, you may consider setting up one of the areas in your house as the classroom, a corner within that as the locker room/cubby hole, the kitchen as a cafeteria, and so on. It doesn't have to be very detailed. Remember this is just to allow your child to feel more at ease. You may choose to involve other members of your family to be a part of this fun game, too. Through play, you can then introduce him/her to roles which require independence such as tying their own shoe laces, putting their bag in its designated place, noticing and reading labels and signs (being more aware of their surroundings in general).
5. Visit the school.
Many of the school will be moving to in-person learning in the Fall. You will need to check on whether you have the option of visiting before the school year starts. Even if you can’t get into the building, walk, bike or drive there and open the floor for open-ended communication along the way. Hear them out and their worries. You do not necessarily have to respond. Acknowledge their feelings.
6. Practice routines.
Whether you are preparing to send your child off to school or return to homeschooling after a break, tweaking routines will evidently become the call for action. Start working back on timings at least two weeks prior to the date. Set cut-off times for sleeping and waking up.
Use these last few days to make a family journal and record the happy moments spent together. Remember to thank Allah for His blessings and for these opportunities. Tell your children that you, too, will miss being able to spend more free time together.
7. Make duaa.
The best way to release one's stress and worries is by entrusting them to Allah.
From an early age, teach your children to make duaa for themselves by making duaa for them in their presence. As parents it is our rightful duty to pray for them to be associated with good company and acquire knowledge that will be a source of benefit in this world and the Hereafter.
Nobody knows your child's personality better than you, whether he/she is an introvert or extrovert. Although it may seem that some children adapt to transitions easily, there are others who find it difficult and take their own time. Bearing that in mind, acknowledge their sentiments and you will notice how they will automatically adjust, just by having received that calm and reassuring support from home. And consider it a new adventure!
Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and writer who is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it onto others. She and her husband are parents to three boys and are currently living in Abu Dhabi.