Supporting Your Child with School Transitions

It feels hard to believe, but the end of the school year is just around the corner.  And while many kids look forward eagerly to the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, it’s a huge transition.  If your child is changing levels of school and potentially moving into a different school next year, it can be even more daunting.  Whether your child is approaching the end of the school year with glee or trepidation, there are a few things you can do to try to help them prepare (and hopefully save yourself some stress too).

Help your child prepare and predict

We all feel better when we know what’s going to happen and when it’s going to happen.  Your child may already be counting down the days to the end of the school year, but if they’re not, helping them track how much time will pass before the transition can be helpful, sometimes using visual calendars for younger children.  Talking about any special end-of-year activities that are coming up can help kids prepare for the excitement or worry that those may bring up.  If you are able, it also helps to have a plan for what summer is going to look like, and if there are choices that your child can make about that to have control over some aspects of it, so much the better.

Help your child celebrate

Finding ways to look back on the last school year and to celebrate your child’s learning and growth can help foster a sense of accomplishment and pride.  It’s often best to focus on the process rather than only the product, saying things like, “I remember how hard you worked to learn division this year and I’m really proud of how you didn’t give up,” rather than just praising the outcome.  Help them notice how they’ve grown emotionally and in their friendships, too.

Help your child say goodbye

Whether your child is moving on from just one teacher or an entire school, it can be helpful to have tangible ways to say goodbye, such as thank you notes, pictures or other transitional objects, or whatever your child might identify as a meaningful way to let go of whatever is ending.  If your child has experienced other losses in the past, they might either have an extra hard time with the goodbye or might avoid it entirely.  Helping them plan what they want to do and to label their feelings can also help them feel more in control of this goodbye, when they may not have had control over past goodbyes.

Help your child keep a routine

Especially as kids get older, they may have more unstructured time and less routine over the summer, and there are lots of benefits to that unstructured time.  Some of my fondest childhood memories are of aimlessly riding my bike around the neighborhood with my friends for hours at a time.  But it can help ease transitions in and out of school years to have a rhythm or routine to the summer, even if it’s different than the school year routine.  Are there special activities you want to plan for weekends during the time off?  A vacation to anchor the summer?  A new skill or activity your child wants to learn or practice before the next school year starts?  Or, if your child is in childcare all summer, are there ways you want to build in downtime, so summer feels a bit different than the school year?  It can also help children to have a way to visualize how they are going to spend their time, perhaps with something like a calendar or countdown chart.

Be gentle with yourself and your child

And finally, remember that transitions can be hard, especially if you have a child with any special needs or who has had disruptions in their life.  It’s ok to allow space for feelings and extra needs around transition times, and it’s ok if it doesn’t go perfectly smoothly or if everyone isn’t happy about the change. 

If your child is struggling to manage transitions around school and it’s interfering with their ability to enjoy play or time with family or friends or causing trouble with sleep or behavior, therapy can be a resource to support children in coping with anxiety around change.  We’re here to help if you would like support for your child.  Feel free to reach out to schedule a free consultation.