The end of school often signals relief for busy families. Gone is the scrambling associated with homework, packing lunches, dashing for the school bus, and extracurriculars. However, for kids who love routine -- and particularly for children who have experienced major life changes and often fear goodbyes (especially when they haven't initiated them) -- losing the structure of school can be stressful.
For example, kids who have moved recently, lost a loved one through death or divorce, or were adopted can have a particularly hard time with the end of the school year. After all, school has been their world for most of their waking hours. It has provided structure and predictability that brings comfort. Squirmy as they get as the days get warmer, children know that school is where they belong. They may miss it deeply when it ends.
Take my kids, for example. We adopted them five years ago, and they still get clingy and angry when they realize they must part from this year's teachers. As soon as we change the clocks in the spring, our second-grader starts breaking rules to make sure they exist. Our third-grader dreams we've abandoned her. Both kids become distracted and forgetful as memories of old losses resurface.
How does your child feel about the end of school? Do you observe any behaviors you didn't see, say, in February? Here's a list of things you can do to help make the transition easier for any kid:
1. Be consistent. Remind your child that everyday rules still apply. Keeping consistent discipline year-round helps her to trust you at these in-between times.
2. Talk once calm. If your child misbehaves in an unusual way, use the discipline you always do. Then, when you've both calmed down, ask him how he's feeling about school ending. The answer might surprise you.
3. Open conversations via story. Read books together about the beginning and end of the school year. Reading can often foster conversations that direct questions can't.
4. Start counting down. Help your child use a calendar. Counting down to the end of school, summer events, and the start of the next school year can impart a sense of control when children need it most.
5. Plan with pals. Set up summer play dates with your child's school friends. If your child will attend camp, consider sending him with a friend.
6. Write letters. Encourage your child to write to anyone she misses -- for example, teachers, friends, and family. If your child is too young to write, then have him dictate a letter or draw a picture. If she likes to write, encourage her to keep a journal.
Enjoy your summer -- and enjoy getting there! If you have other tips for navigating end of year transitions, please feel free to share in the comments below! Also, check out these back posts on coping with anxious kids and end of year transitions for additional ideas.
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