It’s THAT season again…the Season of Transition. I’m not sure why we don’t give Transition more attention since it is one of the few, cross-age, ongoing seasons we can expect all our lives.
This time of year, as school starts once more, we’re likely to have transition from elementary school to middle school, or middle school to high school, or high school to college or…you get the drift. Beyond school, I see folks in my world right now transitioning into parenthood, transitioning into retirement, transitioning to new jobs after college, transitioning to moving out of mom’s and dad’s house. Maybe it’s not THAT season so much as THAT ONGOING season. Either way, it deserves our attention.
First of all, it’s worth noting that different folks feel differently about transitions. Even parents and their kids or siblings can differ dramatically. Some of us like them a lot, seek them out, feel energized and excited by novelty. Some of us hate transitions, resist a shift from the status quo, find them depleting, depressing. We can get in trouble in relationships by assuming that others feel the same way about new circumstances as we do. We might feel fired up by our first week at college while our roommate may feel exhausted, fearful and despairing.
Secondly, depending on how we feel about change, we may approach it differently. We may:
- Be planful, consider all the possibilities, try to manage what’s coming;
- Turn cranky and irritable, strike out at others about unrelated things, cry;
- Resist change, avoid preparing, ignore letters from school/camp telling us what to pack;
- Study what’s next, visit the high school to see where we go the first day, ask others;
- Seek extra support, indulge in more nurturing like a nice nap, take care of ourselves;
- Leap into the event, call our new roommates, arrange to meet during the summer.
It’s worth noting that across a lifetime, people often consistently approach transitions in a similar way. Learning what “works for us” can be helpful. Parents can help kids by asking, “What do you need right now?” Be prepared for a kids’s reply, “I don’t know,” because, in fact, they don’t! A parent can follow up with something like a gentle list of possibilities (“Some kids like to visit the school the week before; others like to call an older kid who goes to that school; but some just like to jump in on the first day! I wonder what would feel most comfortable for you…”) Another growth-producing question might be, “What’s worked well for you in the past?” One more helpful thing a parent might offer is a reminder of that time when a transition went well: “I was really impressed at how the way you transitioned to camp last year. At first you didn’t think you wanted to go. But then you got acquainted and really ended up loving it. What did you do that made it go to well? Would it be possible to adapt that now, I wonder.”
What did you do that made it go well?
underscores the kid’s ability to impact the outcome of an uncertain situation. We call that self-efficacy and it is so important when meeting a new circumstance.
Finally, lately I’ve been noticing that kids and sometimes even parents make a big deal out of being uncertain. We even slap a label (a clinical label at that) of “anxiety” or “social anxiety” on what might just be normal uncertainty. If you think about it, wouldn’t it be odd to be entering a new and unknown situation and NOT feel a bit unsteady? So, a final parenting tip is to be careful, thoughtful with the wording we use. File away words like scared, anxious, afraid, worried and march out language like uncertain, unknown, fresh start, exciting but uncertain. The language which parents use can actually heighten the perceived threat of change OR normalize feeling uncertain.
It’s important to remember that with each successful transition we make, every challenge we meet and overcome, each new circumstance, new dorm mate, new job, new neighborhood we adapt to, we become more accomplished at doing transitions.
May this season of transition be filled with confidence, anticipation and growth!