February 21, 2013

Melissa Arca: Help your children navigate life's big changes

This fall, many children will be making huge transitions. Whether it's starting kindergarten or the closing of a school and the move to a new one, this transition can certainly stress any child out.

This fall, many children will be making huge transitions. Whether it's starting kindergarten or the closing of a school and the move to a new one, this transition can certainly stress any child out.

The issue arises every year, but with Sacramento Unified School District trustees voting tonight on a proposal to close 11 underenrolled elementary schools before the start of the next school year, greater numbers of families will face this kind of stress.

Children thrive on routine and familiarity, so any abrupt change is sure to take its toll. Indeed, stress might already be building as students at the targeted schools hear from news coverage, at home or on the playground that a change is coming.

Children (and adults too) need time to adjust. Here are some points to keep in mind to help you prepare yourself and your child.

Handle your own stress first. Children take their cues from us, even the nonverbal ones. So if you're stressed and it shows, children become stressed too. They might not sleep as well or have meltdowns and tantrums more than ever before. Do your best to take of you and your stress first.

It's true what they say: A happy mom (or dad) equals a happy family.

Talk it out. Be open and honest with your children. Set aside some quiet one-on-one time with each of your children who will be expecting a big change. Bedtime is great for this. Children are typically more open, relaxed and ready to talk about their anxieties.

Older children may benefit from writing it out. Ask your child if they'd like to write down their worries and put them in a "worry jar." Not only does this help them to put their fears into words, it helps them to let go of them, at least for the moment.

Keep the discussion going and stay in tune to their behaviors as clues to escalating stress. For instance, some children may revert to behaviors you thought were long gone, such as thumb-sucking or bedwetting.

Visit the new school. This more than anything will help alleviate some anxiety. Fear of the unknown is worse than reality. Take tours if available. Walk around and show your child important places like bathrooms, the principal's office and the cafeteria.

Make sure you make it to "meet the teacher" day if your new school offers one. Hop on the school's website if available and familiarize yourself and your child with any fun educational links offered there. This will help your child feel more connected to this new school before he even gets there.

Meet new friends. Find out which of your child's peers will also be going to the new school.

Arrange play dates so your child will have at least one familiar face on the first day of school.

Making new friends can be anxiety-producing for kids. Remind them how great they are at sharing a toy, asking a peer to join a game and introducing themselves to new people.

See the positive, no matter how stressful the situation is for you and your family. Maybe you will have to drive farther for school drop-off and you're wondering how you'll manage that; do your best to see the positive. Changes are hard, no doubt about that. But sometimes, out of change, come unexpected and pleasant surprises.

Look for the good and you are sure to find it.

Once the new school year starts, you will have had several months to prepare your child. Then stick to a routine. Amid all the change, routines are more important than ever to help your children feel secure and safe. Have a regular and relaxing bedtime routine.

Do your best to have set mealtimes and set aside time for at least four family dinners a week as a time to reconnect and talk.

Prepare the night before by picking out clothes for the next day, packing lunches, and preparing backpacks so mornings aren't a crazy, chaotic rush to get out the door.

Be patient. Above all, know that transitions take time, no matter what. Starting kindergarten, a new job, a new school, a new baby these are all major life transitions. There will be some growing pains. Adjustment takes time. So be patient with yourself and your kids. Pretty soon, everything will settle down, new routines will be established, and you'll (hopefully) wonder what all the fuss was about.

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