My family moved to Monmouth County during the pandemic, and for the first time in a long time at the end of that summer, I started to experience the dreadful pit in the bottom of my stomach – a sadness that I associated with my childhood summers when camp would come to an end. Summer, particularly when you live at the shore, is pretty magical. When August starts to come to a close, it’s hard to fend off the BIG feelings of dread that come with another school year fast approaching and the long summer nights of relaxing on the beach fading away.
If you have kids, there is usually both a strong identification with them in this anxious feeling, along with the complexity of not mixing your own feelings with theirs, as they begin the transition into the next school year. As you may have noticed in reading much of my content, there is a running theme of being conscious of our feelings. What will foster the most successful transition for our children and for us during this time, is to be aware of our own feelings, so that we may be as empathetic as possible towards our children.
Identifying what is hard about transitions can help with preparing for them.
The little control over what is to come
The polarity of saying goodbye to one thing and welcoming the next
Some useful tips for transitions (like returning to school):
Reinforce the routines that always stay the same (bedtime, morning routine, family time). For younger children create a separation routine that is consistent regardless of where you are going and be religious about rehearsing it. For example, my daughter and I used to give each other exactly five hugs and kisses before we separated and then I would tell her when I would see her next whether it would be that day at pickup, that evening or the next morning. Stay consistent with these routines that take place daily, whether it’s a school day or not.
Talk about your own experience of a transition in a way that is appropriate given your child’s age. I might say to my seven year old son, “I have a bit of a hard time when I have to do something for the first time, it can feel a little scary and also exciting, what about you?” Sharing your feelings and experiences helps to validate their emotions and sends the message that they are not alone. You know your child best and your relationship with him or her, but the most important part is trying to set up an open dialogue.
With older kids or teenagers a more laid back approach is typically more successful, finding openings where they will talk to you. Sometimes opening up about your own experience and then waiting for them to come to you in their own time is the best approach. Always remember that your job is to convey that all feelings are okay and you want to hear anything they want to share; and that no matter what you are their advocate.
Behaviorally rehearse a transition, such as going to school, by getting things ready; visual cues are helpful for younger children in particular. Practicing anchor points (drop off, pickup, lunch) can also be useful because younger children use these as time cues and they start to help children feel more in control of the transition.
Lastly, always remember the signs and symptoms of distress that warrant professional help. Transitions are a time that can kick up more significant mental health problems, and you can always refer back to my articles about ways to identify signs and symptoms of distress and ways to talk to your child about getting help.
As adults, we can turn to our family and friends to talk about how it feels to have the summer end; that we are sad to see it come to a close, or how relieved we are to send our children off to school. Remember, our kids typically don’t have the tools to verbalize all of their feelings so those feelings manifest themselves in different ways. Our job is to help facilitate the conversation with our kids to share those feelings, in order to help both them and ourselves transition more smoothly out of summer and back to the school year.
Ariella Soffer, Ph.D. is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who owns a group practice in Manhattan. Dr. Soffer’s practice specializes in parenting consultation, sports psychology, perinatal mental health in addition to general mental health concerns. Soffer & Associates Comprehensive Psychological Services website can be found here: DrAriellaSoffer.com