One of the great joys of raising children is how often we find ourselves on the precipice of a new experience. New beginnings are a fairly regular part of life for children (and their parents) – a new school year, a new tumbling class, a new soccer team, a new teacher/coach, a new language, a new baby in the family. The regularity and frequency of these new beginnings doesn’t necessarily make them easy. As a matter of fact, for some of our little ones, new beginnings are more often seen as frightening rather than exciting. There are some very important things to keep in mind as we help our children navigate the numerous transitions they will encounter.
Monitor your own feelings about each new beginning.
Our children can read our emotions like neon signs. When we are anxious, fearful or wary, our children are insecure and uncertain. When we are positive, confident, and optimistic, our children are secure and assured. Keep in mind that the aim is to convey calm joy. It is important to find the right balance between calm and joy since too much excitement can be overwhelming to a child.
Be aware of your child’s temperament.
Some children seem to move easily into new situations whereas others resist new situations like the plague. Battling your child’s temperament each and every time he/she transitions to a new situation is exhausting and demoralizing for all involved. Instead, accept the fact that transitions represent a challenge for your child and help him/her develop strategies for successfully meeting each new challenge. A great strategy for helping children who are hesitant in the face of new beginnings is to name and normalize internal states such as butterflies in the stomach. Let your child know that this feeling is so common that it has a name and it is temporary. Also let your child know that deep breathing can put the butterflies right to sleep.
Think ahead and prepare.
The old adage, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is worth remembering when new beginnings are on the horizon. Taking into consideration your own child’s need for information, provide a succinct overview of what your child can expect. Be careful not to provide too many details that your child may find confusing. After a few concise statements, provide some silence that your child can fill with questions, comments or pondering. Be mindful that your tone of voice and facial expression are communicating as much about what to expect as are your words.
When we celebrate transitions we provide a public and joyful recognition of children’s growth and development. At St. Andrew’s Episcopal School, not only do our Eighth Graders graduate but every grade level from Pre-kindergarten through Seventh Grade participates in a Promotional Exercise. This year-end celebration even involves students moving to the seats vacated by the class above them as a physical display that they are transitioning to the next grade. Smaller transitions are also celebrated throughout the year as students demonstrate newly acquired skills and knowledge. Family celebrations of transitions do not have to be elaborate or expensive but should draw attention to milestones as they occur. Smaller transitions might simply be verbally acknowledged at the dinner table.
Turn a disaster into a delight.
Not all transitions are going to be smooth. One of the most important things parents can teach their children is that there is absolutely no waste in the economy of life lessons. All of our missteps, mistakes and failures have great value and can be used to build a bridge from where we are to where we want to go. When children dissolve into tears on the first day of school, refuse to go on stage for their dance recital, wet their pants at summer camp or hit some other bump in the road, we can find a calm and quiet time to talk about what we’ve learned. We can remind our children that the bumps along the way jostle us a bit but they do not have to derail us. We can share with our little ones some bumpy transition or messy beginning from our own past and model for them our ability to embrace and value not only our successes but also our difficulties.
Dr. DeeDee Estes
The Rev. Dr. DeeDee Estes is an Episcopal priest and a licensed psychologist. She earned a Ph.D. in School Psychology with a specialization in social and clinical interventions with children and families. She is the chaplain and counselor at St. Andrew’s Episcopal School. Please note that St. Andrew’s has Open Houses on January 17 and 24 at 9:15am. Please email [email protected] with questions or plans to attend.