Managing New School Transitions

This is updated for parents worried about how their child will manage the transition to school in the Autumn term.

Transitions, comings, and goings (attachments and separations) are all part of life. Due to the pandemic, this cycle has dominated. I also feel that children who spent less time socialising in those formative years may find starting school more difficult. ‌However, families, children, and life are constantly changing. Life is full of ups and downs. We can’t always control it, so it’s better to work with it, rather than resist it or think it will just go away.

In the months and weeks leading up to the start of the school year, you or your child will likely feel a range of emotions, from excitement to anxiety.

What behaviours you may notice in Transitions:

  • Your child may be clingy, wanting you to be close
  • Disturbed sleep, nightmares, early waking
  • Aggression, hitting, kicking, tantrums
  • Regressing, so they feel much younger
  • Withdrawing, being quiet
  • Your teenager may talk about wanting to avoid going to school or university.
  • They are going off their food or overeating.
  • Complaining of tummy aches, headaches, constipation or bedwetting

How long should these feelings last?

These reactions and feelings should not last a long time. They often resolve once you and your child have settled with the transition. However, there is an additional sudden change, such as bereavement, illness, or multiple changes occur simultaneously, such as divorce, or a new school. In that case, it may all be too much, and the anxiety may continue. Sometimes, it can manifest as Separation Anxiety or Social/School Phobia.

It’s important to understand that children, like adults, have mixed feelings about specific transitions. They may want to leave the nursery and start school, but maybe sad to say goodbye to ‌nursery or junior school safety.

How can you help your children transition?

Many schools, I am sure, will operate excellent graded transition plans. Children who are anxious or have special needs may need extra help with the transition. Here are some general ideas to have in place ( I will write more on this soon):

  • Start early; you can never begin preparing for a transition, too soon; you could do a dry run of going to the school before you start.
  • Anticipate possible trouble spots ( your child may suffer from separation anxiety) and plan what to do if problems occur. You could ask for a picture of the classroom. If your child’s teacher is changing, show a new picture of the new teacher or even arrange to meet them before starting.
  • Arrange more visits to the nursery or school. Some children need many opportunities to feel safe. Always contact the SEN teacher and arrange a meeting.
  • Make sure they have a friend, so they can go to school with older children. The older the child, the more they will be influenced by their peers rather than you.
  • If they are experiencing separation anxiety, seek out an adult they feel comfortable with to establish a relationship first. Having too many people to attach to when already feeling anxious can worsen things.
  • Develop a simple plan, hug goodbye, and hand them to a teacher or learning support assistant.
  • Remember, reassurance does not effectively manage anxiety; mastering the feelings and having a plan and coping skills do.
  • Talk about their feelings; even younger children need their feelings named and acknowledged.
  • It is a myth to believe that talking about worry worsens it. It might feel uncomfortable, but it will not make it worse.
  • Please help them ask for help and identify the best adult to talk to.
  • Help the transition with a transitional object. It’s something of yours to keep if they are worried about being away from you. This is good for children whose parents have separated or if they’ve lost a parent or grandparent.

You could say:

 I know it might be strange to leave mummy or not be at home, but I know you are going to be fine once you are there. Let’s think of something you can bring in to help you feel safe. What can I do to help you?

Examples of Transitional Objects

It’s just an object that helps your child feel secure away from home. Over the years, parents I worked with have had lovely ideas, such as:

Make a picture necklace of you or the family they can wear or put in their pocket.

A favourite toy that’s small enough to be in their pocket or pencil case.

Something of yours, one parent had some precious stones and gave them to their child so that they could use them as a worry stone. Each time they rubbed it, it took the worries away.

A piece of their lovey or part of an old tee shirt of yours

leaving them a surprise note in their lunchbox

If you know a big transition is coming, listen, plan, and problem-solve with your child. Make a picture book of positive separations in readiness for a new one. Talk about previous transitions and think about what worked and what you may do differently this time.

Always give your child time to settle and ensure you can talk or play after school.

  • Do not fill up schedules, and ensure your child starts to go to bed at their regular time.
  • Expect and plan for any transition to be successful, positive, and confident. Be realistic and patient with your child.
  • Help them find ways to be brave and have other positive experiences in life. This will give them the confidence to go forward.

Anxiety works both ways:

It is not just children that experience anxiety. Parents are often surprised that they may be experiencing anxiety. It’s okay if several uncomfortable feelings arise.  

What feelings and thoughts may you experience?

  • Feel heavy, down and more tearful.
  • Be fearful of another lockdown.
  • Your sleep may be disturbed.
  • Want to keep your child close?
  • Be more anxious, snappy and moody.
  • Sadness that your child is growing up and won’t need you as much
  • Anxious that they will struggle at /primary/senior school and will not survive the transition
  • Wonder if they will survive adolescence.
  • Worry you will not be involved in their lives.
  • Anxious that their new teacher will be good enough for them.

Examples of past transitions affecting the present

It is possible to unconsciously impact the present situation based on your experience of past transitions. For example, one of your parents may have died when you were younger, making separation anxiety distressing (separation anxiety is not limited to children). For instance, when your child begins school, enters adolescence, or leaves home to attend college/university. ‌

These feelings are very normal, and what matters most is how you respond to them. As they enter your awareness, accept them rather than resist them. Consequently, your child’s feelings will affect how you treat them. If you are, an adverse reaction to the transition is likely. However, it doesn’t mean you are a “bad” parent! ‌

How to take care of yourself

It is distressing for any parent to witness thier child’s struggles and dysregulated emotions.

It can be very difficult to communicate a sense of calm to your child when you struggle to cope with your own anxiety.

When we are feeling anxious, we start worrying about what might happen in the future — all those “what ifs.” To avoid worries about the future, try practising mindfulness, which is a technique for focusing on the present. Here are two common mindfulness techniques.

Breathe and feel presence in your body

This is simple: take a moment to breathe into your body daily. Close your eyes, and breathe straight down past your belly button. Sometimes touching your belly helps. Try to bring the feeling into your hands or feet. Your mind may tell you that you can’t feel anything, be bored, or even want to move on. However, stay within the moment. You’ll feel aliveness and energy inside. Try this every day when you move from task to task, and notice how calm you may feel in those transition moments.

 Foster your “inner protectors.”

Most of the time, we don’t even notice the positive moments. Your thoughts may be challenging and stuck in negativity or fear right now. This is okay at a time like this, it’s frightening, and we feel unsafe. During these moments, invoke your inner protectors to get you through. Imagine everyone who loves and cares for you, or a moment when you felt profoundly loved and cared for. (Your internal protectors). Place them around you and feel the love and protection. Imagine them giving you a vast, warm, and loving hug! Make it last; feel your body. Stay with and allow the feeling of being cared for.

The body has implicit memory, so the longer you hold this, the more the neural circuits will fire. You may even stimulate dopamine (a reward neurotransmitter) or oxytocin (the bonding hormone). This is especially helpful now, given we are all isolated and disconnected.

Red Flag, When to be Worried.

  • If the symptoms within you or your child do not dissipate within six months
  • If they interfere with everyday life, your child starts to avoid certain social situations, and as a consequence, your child stops going to school, out or clubs.
  • They develop lots of physical symptoms such as constant headaches or stomach aches.
  • They seem withdrawn or have constant meltdowns.

Other Related Posts:

Emotional regulation versus Executive Functioning Skills

Back to School Anxiety following COVID-19

Back to School Sleep Solutions following the pandemic

Separation Anxiety and Disorder.

Talking to your Child about Anxiety

Understanding and Managing Meltdowns

In Conclusion

I hope this helps, and do contact me for a consultation if you are worried or concerned,

Wishing you joy for the rest of the holidays. With Love Catherine

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