Transitions can be tough, especially in the fall when there seem to be so many. Sports are starting, school and lessons – they all bring their own challenges. Even the babies and toddlers have to adjust as parents’ schedules change or older siblings begin school. Some children jump into action, excited and unafraid, while others need encouragement and a few coping skills to help them adjust. All while we, the parents, keep close watch – judging what is best and hoping our little ones will thrive in their new-found routines.
For a while my daughter was obsessed with Daniel Tiger on PBS. She would watch every morning as I helped her brother get ready for the bus. Being on daily, we became familiar with the jingles which aided in teaching young ones to cope. Coping with a storm, a new baby in the family, or having a babysitter for the night. My daughter would sing “Grown-ups come back” whenever I did as much as fetch the mail. Much to our benefit, there seemed to be a song that applied to most new circumstances and if there wasn’t I would make one up. They were simple enough, but really helped her rationalize the busyness that went on – giving an explanation and some reassurance in the midst of the apparent chaos of fall.
Toting along a lovey (when appropriate) and establishing a regular, predictable routine with goodbyes also helps. One of my sons had a difficult time his kindergarten year. He was an extreme rule-follower and the lack of freedom in this bigger and more structured environment brought him anxiety. Upon our second day of arrival, my son cried and asked if he could have something of mine to keep with him. Trying desperately to mend his little heart, I dug around in my purse and – lacking a bit in creativity – pulled out a quarter. I told him to carry it in his pocket, so every time he missed me he could feel the quarter and know I love him and miss him too. He was fond of the idea, thank goodness, and proceeded to carry a quarter every day for the rest of the year. Our predictable morning goodbye was a comfort as I gave him the coin at drop off, and he gave it back in the afternoon with his update. Each day’s level of success was measured by how often he needed to feel the quarter. Slowly, over time, he felt it less. It helped him cope.
Understandably, it can take weeks or months for children to finally get settled into the rhythm of school, activities, and having to be on all day. Tantrums and irritability are common as they adjust, demanding more patience from parents, and possibly an after-school rest or earlier bedtime. All this being said, we are the experts on our kids, and need to give ourselves credit if we see, over time, they are simply not adjusting. Maybe they aren’t comfortable with a new caretaker or they (despite giving it a shot) are simply uninterested in ballet. Because, no matter what the activity may be, what works for one child may not work for another.
Despite his ability to get through the day with his quarter, my normally cheerful son never started liking his school. He pushed through kindergarten, tolerating his routine while, as the year progressed, we seemed to be watching him wither. He simply wasn’t happy. I hemmed and hawed and asked for advice, but in the end we trusted our gut and knew it wasn’t working. While it was a great school, and a fit for many, it wasn’t a fit for him. We rolled up our sleeves and started touring, placing ourselves on waiting lists, and with his needs in mind we found one that felt right. After starting at his new school, there was no crying, no anxiety, and a much faster adjustment. He had the increased independence he was craving, and was once again blossoming and happy.
The lesson I’ve learned over years of transitions with young children: Developing some simple coping skills are incredibly helpful in reducing the growing pains as children adjust. But sometimes, when coping and perseverance aren’t cutting it, we need to take a step back and evaluate if the end goal is jiving with our children individually. At the end of the day, we want them to thrive and we are their advocates. We know our children best, and our instincts will tell us when to persevere and when to move on. After all, while coping is necessary, and quarters in pockets are quite a help, they will ultimately fall short when it comes to making the wrong thing right.