As someone who has been in school settings her whole life, this time of year represents a period of transition. Many of the students are coming to the end of their journey in a particular grade.The children work hard all year to gain confidence with the expectations of that grade and develop important relationships with their teachers and peers For the fourth graders who are moving into the middle school, and for the few students that are moving to a new school, there is an added complexity to the feelings they experience as they transition into new communities. In all cases, there is both joy and loss.
Children appreciate the predictability that the routines of the year bring as there is much in their world that is out of their control. The world itself is unpredictable, and seems to be increasingly so with each passing day. Though we are a school that is intentional about creating choice for students throughout their learning day, there are rules and expectations that govern their school days and their home lives. Change in any of their routines can bring excitement, but it may also bring worry. This worry can manifest itself in big reactions to small moments or in unexpected behaviors. Though these moments can be hard on everyone in the family, they also present an opportunity to support children in coping with worry by developing resilience. Resilience is defined by the American Psychological Association (APA) as, “the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or even significant sources of stress.” The good news is that we can all develop resilience, and we can help our children develop it as well. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned over time. Below are ten tips which the APA identified as useful to support the development of resilience. The last four tips are particularly relevant to supporting your children during this period of transition.
Teach your child how to make friends, including the skill of empathy and connecting with the feelings of others. Encourage your child to be a friend in order to get friends. Build a strong family network to support your child through his or her inevitable disappointments and hurts.
Help your child by having him or her help others
Children who may feel helpless can be empowered by helping others. Engage your child in age-appropriate volunteer work, or ask for assistance yourself with some task that he or she can master.
Maintain a daily routine
Sticking to a routine can be comforting to children, especially younger children who crave structure in their lives. Encourage your child to develop their own routines. For example, taking the time to develop a morning routine, and incorporating their ideas into the routine is a great way to begin the day.
Take a break
While it is important to stick to routines, endlessly worrying can be counter-productive. Teach your child how to focus on something besides what's worrying them. Be aware of what your child is exposed to that can be troubling, whether it be news, the Internet or overheard conversations, and make sure your child takes a break from those things if they trouble them.
Teach your child self-care
Set a good example, and teach your child the importance of making time to eat properly, exercise and rest. Make sure your child has time to have fun, and make sure that your child hasn't scheduled every moment of his or her life with no "down time" to relax. Caring for oneself and even having fun will help your child stay balanced and better deal with stressful times.
Move toward your goals
Teach your child to set reasonable goals and then to move toward them one step at a time. Moving toward that goal — even if it's a tiny step — and receiving praise for doing so will focus your child on what they have accomplished rather than on what hasn't been accomplished, and can help build the resilience to move forward in the face of challenges.
Nurture a positive self-view
Help your child remember ways that they have successfully handled hardships in the past and then help them understand that these past challenges help them build the strength to handle future challenges. Help your child learn to trust themselves to solve problems and make appropriate decisions. Teach your child to see the humor in life. Help them develop the ability to laugh at one's self.
Keep things in perspective and maintain a hopeful outlook
Even when your child is facing very painful events, help them look at the situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Although your child may be too young to consider a long-term look on their own, help them see that there is a future beyond the current situation and that the future can be good. An optimistic and positive outlook enables your child to see the good things in life and keep going even in the hardest times.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery
Tough times are often the times when children learn the most about themselves. Help your child take a look at how whatever they are facing so they can learn "what they are made of."
Accept that change is part of living
Change often can be scary for children and teens. Help your child see that change is part of life and new goals can replace goals that have become less attractive.
Just as we would think about the building of math and literacy skills, resilience can too be learned and exercised. Judy, our lower school psychologist, is an additional resource to those seeking to support their children during this moment.