One Tough Transisiton
The start of school is something we prepare for over weeks and months. The first-day pictures, the new backpack, a trip to the shoe store… all of these symbolize the start of a new school year.
For some of our young ones, though, a challenge is on the horizon. Nope, it’s not the very-first-timers, the preschoolers and the kindergarteners. We’ve been reading separation stories, practicing our kissing hands and shaping their view of school in earnest for weeks. The ones with the tougher transition? The new first graders.
All of a sudden, they’re big kids. School has now become work: it requires sitting still for long periods of time and concentrating in more than short bursts. It’s exhausting. It’s become so much more about rules and rigidity. Homework is harder, and counts for more than ever. Afterschool meltdowns can be frequent and frustrating for everyone. And all too often, parents and kids are unprepared.
Even full-day kindergarteners can have trouble with first grade. There’s not much down time compared to last year, and the physical requirements of staying still and keeping focus are enough to wear them out.
What’s a parent to do when faced with after-school agitation? There are a few things that can help. First, recognize the wonderful compliment your child is paying you by melting down at home. Yes, I know, it sure doesn’t feel like a compliment to have your child yelling at you that they don’t want to do that, but it is. They’ve been on their best behavior all day and finally, at home with you, they feel safe to let their feelings out. Prepare for the transition to home by leaving twenty minutes of downtime as soon as they get home. Have a healthy snack and just let them be. Don’t ask too many questions. Think about that “just a few minutes of peace and quiet” that you crave when you get home from work, and give it to your child. It’s a gift you’ll both be grateful for.
Second, wait a while before scheduling after-school activities or even too many errands. Going straight from school to soccer or piano just lengthens the time and attention requirements of your child. To expect a child to go straight from their school day to a round of errands in the car leaves no time for movement or relaxation. Be willing to allow a short nap if needed – this usually doesn’t last more than a month at the most.
Third, plan a time for homework that’s not right after school. When I bring work home, I rarely look at it before dinner is over. By then I’m rested, fed and ready to concentrate again. Kids deserve the same chance to unwind and regroup.
Last, but certainly not least, leave time for play. Play is the work of children, and they’re doing much less of it every day at school. Children often process things they’re thinking about through their play, and that’s important. To a seven year old, not everything can be talked out; many issues require a different kind of processing. Play allows that to happen. Unstructured play provides the glue that holds knowledge in place. It builds connections in the brain and allows for emotional release.
Still having a tough time after more than a month or so? Don’t hesitate to check in with your pediatrician, have your child’s eyes checked, and talk to his or her teacher. This is an important transition. Their lives will look more or less the same for the next twelve years. It’s up to us to help them learn how to handle it well and balance their lives.