After raising eight children, I’ve been through many important transitional phases. One of the biggest transitions comes at the beginning of the school year. Your child could be getting ready to start at a new school, move to a new classroom or attend a child care centre for the first time. Each child is unique and deals with this time of year differently. It’s important to take these differences into account when preparing for any potential shifts in routine.
Change can be hard, both for parents and their children, but the good news is that transitions are an important and normal part of growing up. Babies can start to show signs of separation anxiety as early as six months. From there, the transitional stages differ depending on the child’s age. But regardless of their age and stage, there are certain tips to keep in mind that will help ease parents and their children through important changes – from the beginning of the school year and beyond.
1. Know your child’s personality
I like to think of each child as a little personality. Some kids are more cautious and like to plan ahead. Others are able to jump right in and face change head on. Get to know your children. If they like to plan ahead, help them do this. Keep a calendar with a countdown until the day the transition takes place so that they know what to expect. This will make it easier for them once the change comes.
2. Prepare yourself
Sometimes change can be harder on parents than it is on their child. Before you get your child ready for a transition, you have to make sure you’re ready first. If you’re not, there’s a chance that you will give in and back away from the change last minute. This sends your child the wrong message and only leads to confusion.
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3. Understand the benefits of change
Even when change is hard, the ability to transition from one stage to the next teaches children essential life lessons. They learn resilience, which is a very important quality. The number one thing you don’t want to do is give in when your child is upset. Instead of resilience, this will teach them that when they cry, they win!
4. Focus on the little things
There are many little things parents can do at the beginning of a transition to make it a bit easier. If a child is entering a new environment, give them the opportunity to get comfortable by taking them on tours and showing them around. Pick them up a little early at the end of the day or try to break the day up into smaller pieces. These things may seem obvious, but can make a big difference.
5. Tap into professionals
Before your child starts at a new child care centre or school, get to know the teachers and staff who will be working with them. Let the teachers know what soothes your child and also what sets them off. If your child is upset by the transition, ask staff to distract them through play. Remember to meet with teachers and staff regularly to see how your child is doing.
6. Create routines and stick to them
Routines are important both before and during big transitions. At home you can introduce different bedtime or teeth brushing routines so that your child gets used to change. Once your child begins at a new child care centre or school, develop a parting routine. Never leave without saying goodbye, but don’t prolong goodbyes either. Let them know that you’ll be back soon and try to stay consistent with drop-off and pick-up times.
7. Be Patient
As we all know, it can take time to adapt to change. Depending on the situation, your child could adapt quickly, or it could take them a bit longer. Give them time – it will happen!
Talk to your child about the transition as often as possible. If they’re old enough, ask how they’re feeling. See if they have any questions. Explain why the change is occurring and involve them in it as much as you can. Allowing them to help with things like packing lunches and school bags will get them excited for their first day.
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9. Stay involved
If you can, visit your child at school or child care centre. They’ll be happy to see you and it will help them feel more comfortable in their new environment.
10. Stay positive
Remember that your child feeds off your energy. This is important even with babies, who are more tuned into your energy than you may think. If you remain positive about the change, it’s more likely that your child will too!
Victoria Sopik is the co-founder and CEO of Kids & Company, Canada’s leading corporate-sponsored child care provider. An awarding-winning entrepreneur and mother of eight, she understands the delicate balance between work and life.