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By Sweta Sobrin, DCM’s Sr. Manager for Early Learning & Family Engagement
For many families, “back to school season” means NEW – new routines, new friends, new classroom dynamics, new everything! So much “new” can be daunting for anyone, as any moment of life that involves changing routines and systems brings uncertainty and unease.
For parents and caregivers, this can be a particularly hefty season of change. Whether you have a child who is heading off to Kindergarten for the first time, or an older kiddo with a seasoned understanding of playground politics, transitions are tricky! As we head into the school time of transition, here are some ways to help ease jittery feelings.
Disagreements WILL happen. Eggs for breakfast? Unacceptable. You have a meeting and need to get out the door? Perfect time for a shoe-related meltdown. School days are long days for everyone, and it is not uncommon for tension to arise when everyone is going in different directions. Adopt the mantra, “We are all on the same team,” and remind yourself and one another that frustration is okay.
Acknowledge your own emotions out loud to model healthy ways for your children to express their own anger, disappointment, or any of the many feelings they have. A simple example: “Oof! I’m frustrated that the construction is blocking the road! I’m nervous we’ll be late, but I’m glad to be safe in our car with you.” Modeling in this way gives children a script to use when they are navigating their own big feelings; children begin to learn that their feelings are protected and that they are invited to be part of the solution.
Surprises are inevitable. Traffic is heavier, breakfast spilled everywhere, and the cat got out. Leave room for surprises by making the rest of the day as predictable as possible. Streamline morning options by creating a breakfast menu of tried and true favorites. Use visual timers, like sand timers or an egg timer, for self-care tasks (getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc) to help support independence and time management. A shared, color-coded, family calendar on the wall could be a tool for everyone to see what is coming up.
Whether you walk, bike, drive, or take the bus, doing practice runs of the route to school can help familiarize your kiddos to a new part of their day. And when the inevitable wrench is thrown into your plans, tackle it by sharing in feelings of frustration or disappointment before deciding together how to move on with your day.
Share the Power
The stress/anxiety of new environments and routines can quickly give rise to power struggles. To help your kiddos feel connected and involved, include them in the process of making choices. Provide opportunities for them to voice their opinions and effect change in age-appropriate ways. Perhaps they can be part of creating the breakfast menu or determining the order in which they complete their morning routine.
Share information that is appropriate for children to know. If the regular route to school is closed, let the kids know before you get on the road. If an after-school activity is canceled or rescheduled, put it on the family calendar and ask your children to check the calendar regularly for changes. Sharing knowledge and maintaining age-appropriate transparency can solidify the “team” feeling.
Celebrate the NEW!
Even though transitions can be tricky and full of emotion, providing simple, supportive strategies that focus on connections can help children remember that they are safe and have grown-ups who care for and about them. Take time to celebrate together! Starting school is a momentous occasion and should be honored as such. Whether that means taking a photo of your children on the first day, reading a story about the beginning of the school year, or intentionally finding time to share all the new things your kiddo is learning and is curious about, the beginning of a new school year is an opportunity to celebrate and remember to cultivate the joy that comes with learning and growing.
Sweta joins DCM with extensive experience in Early Learning Centers including leadership positions. She also has provided educator training and coaching for Early Childhood Educators in a variety of contexts including helping scientists engage children in STEM topics.
“I am beyond thrilled to be joining a team of creative, passionate, and responsive professionals who fully believe in the power of play,” shared Sweta. “I am eager to implement DCM’s philosophy of joyful discovery and learning to directly strengthen family connections and build lasting relationships in the community.”