I was standing in line at Target today, realizing that Target seemed busier than usual…mostly parents with their kids. Then I realized: it’s just a few days until school starts! Many baskets were overflowing with new notebooks, back packs and fresh crayons. The young woman in front of me, obviously a college student, was purchasing a lamp as one of her school supplies.
My glance wandered to a pair, a tween girl, taller than her mom, leaning over and draping herself on mom’s shoulders. Mom was facing me so that I could see her expression of weariness as if to say, “Aren’t you too big for this.” But she didn’t. As I listened into their conversation, the girl pulling away from her mom’s neck, asked with a bit of uncertainty, “Are you sure this will look good on me?” Mom nodded wearily; I recalled hours in store dressing rooms as my self-conscious teens fretted about their “first-day-of-school” outfits.
As our kids prepare for school, these next few days are wonderful, or not-so-wonderful, times of transition. From a parenting point of view, transitions are a big deal. And Life is full of them, some tiny, some huge. This week, this transition is a great opportunity to focus a bit on something which will happen again and again in your child’s life. Here are some things you may want to consider:
- Transitions are times of uncertainty. Even for the most secure, how things will go is not for sure. Think about, and maybe talk about, how fluent each of your family members is with transition. One of our kids loved new stuff, raced toward it, embraced new classmates, new dorm room, new cities with zest. Another acted nonchalant but stuck close to parents. Parents are also different in ways they approach making changes. Some plan ahead; some ignore change allowing it to catch them off guard; some lay awake at nights fretting. Family dinner conversation about past transitions, how they went, what helped, what we worried about that turned out to be silly (True confession: one kid I know was afraid he wouldn’t be able to find a bathroom at the new “huge” school). It would be a great time to tell kids your own stories about important transitions.
- Begin to talk now about routines. How is school routine different from summer routine? What routines have been helpful in the past? What changes do they think may happen in their routine for the upcoming year? What can you (mom or dad) do which would be helpful to their routine? Are there ways you’re expecting them to manage their own routines in a new way? And of course, it helps to ease toward the school routine before the first day…going to bed a bit earlier or getting back into the habit of packing their own lunch the night before…
- Plan to observe the transition with something special to let them know, let us know, that this is important. Some families have a last dinner at the community pool to “say good-bye to summer;” some plan a special breakfast for the first morning and all walk to school together; some families allow their kids to select a “first-day-of-school” outfit or hair cut. By creating a way to honor the new beginning, we convey to our kids that something significant is about to launch.
- Finally, it’s okay to be anxious. Allow them to acknowledge, and allow us to acknowledge, that oh-so-important feeling. Talk openly about how people manage their anxiety (arranging to walk into school with a friend; practicing taking deep breaths; doing positive imaging the night before; having a plan where to sit at lunch; visiting the new school in advance to rehearse finding classrooms). Remember, this transition is just one of many to come.
As I left Target, I witnessed another touching scene: A young woman who was hugely pregnant (to my former-obstetrics nurse eyes, about to deliver shortly) was walking slowly to her car with an older man who seemed to be her father. At one point, she stopped and propped her belly with her hands. He walked back to her, gently put his arm around her, took the bag she’d carried and eased her toward their car, her head leaning on his shoulder.
I thought of how many transitions we are privileged to make with our children and the same considerations apply:
- Transitions are times of uncertainty.
- Transitions make us reconsider our routines.
- Transitions make us count on those we love and acknowledge that these are special times.
- Transitions make us anxious, yet as we lean on our family, we move through them.
May this be your kids’ best school year ever
And may you survive with grace whatever transitions lie ahead this year.
As ever, I welcome your comments.