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How to Say Goodbye: 0-3

May 28, 2019

 

For most American schools, the end of the school year is approaching. There may be one more set of Parent-Teacher conferences or one last event with the full school community to celebrate the growth of the year. There may be information about summer programs or registration for next year. Don't get too far ahead of your child. While you may have strong memories of the joyful end of your school year when you were younger, remember that change can be hard on young children. Even if there are plenty of fun activities coming over "summer vacation," the idea that they're not coming to school every day any more and the fear of that unknown is a new stressor, even to the very young child. 

 

For the youngest children, infants and toddlers, who are still establishing their understanding of whether or not the world is a safe and reliable place, the more routine and predictability you can offer, even in these last weeks of school, the better. Keep your home-time routines the same. Avoid talking about upcoming changes before those changes can be realistically understood by your child. So, for example, if your child is going to be on vacation for two months before they enter the Children's House classroom, there's no need to start talking about that classroom now. Instead, keep focused on what's happening next, so your child (with their limited understand of the passage of time) can feel secure in the immediate transitions without becoming confused or anxious about ones much farther off. 

 

For your infant, slow down and remain attentive. While your infant may not be able to tell you out loud that they're anxious, you might see changes as these empathetic little people notice the stress around them. If there are special events at school or things that will disrupt the regular routine, counterbalance them with as much routine and normality as you can at home. Pay attention if your child seems crankier, hungrier, less hungry, more tired or more active. These changes in behavior may reflect the stress they're noticing around them. Assure your child and comfort them, and make sure their immediate needs, physical and emotional, are met, to help them feel more secure. 

 

If your school has special days, prepare for these by letting your child know as explicitly as possible what might be different. "Tomorrow, I will come to school with you. You can show me around your classroom and we can do some work together. Then, you'll come home with me a little earlier than usual and we will spend the afternoon at the park. That's unusual, isn't it!" Acknowledge changes without feeding hesitation about them. If your child expresses their own fear, affirm the emotion without feeing the fear. "You're right. Things will be different when the school year is done. That can feel scary." Even as a small child, your child doesn't necessarily need you to overtalk them into feeling "better" as much as they need to know that you will stay with them even when they're not feeling great. 

 

Most importantly, remember that unpredictable circumstances bring unpredictable behavior. You may be more stressed these days, too, getting ready for break or putting together new family schedules or trying to get as much done before the summer comes. Your responsiveness to your child's stress may not be at its peak, either. If you find yourself losing your own patience more often, or wondering why your child's behavior seems less predictable or more challenging to you, take a breath. Model moving slowly through stressful moments and avoid reacting before you think. Remember that it's always a good start to simply acknowledge what's happening. "This day feels different."  "I can see that you are unsure." "It's hard to be calm with so many changes, isn't it!" While you're affirming what you see, you are also giving yourself a second to make sense of what's going on, so your response is one that models self-care and a loving support for your child. 

 

Change is inevitable. But how you model responding to change for your child should be thoughtful. You are teaching your child about their own persistence, about their ability to be flexible and still to be safe and loved, despite the inevitability of changes big and small. Acknowledge what's hard, stay emotionally responsive and supportive, and present the information your child needs on a timeline they can understand. You may not be able to prevent all the stress that comes with endings and beginnings, but you can help your child to learn how to honor them authentically. 

 

 

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