Susan C. Stone's Practical Parenting Blog dotcom

SCHOOL’S OUT! YIPEE!! (or not so much?)

Posted on: May 11, 2011


SCHOOL’S OUT! YIPEE! (or not so much?)

How children react to the end of the school year, how you can help, and what makes for a great summer.

Many parents look back on the beginning of summer vacation and remember only the relief and sense of freedom they felt! It often represented the end of getting up early, structured time and expectations, and the beginning of lazy days swimming and hanging out with friends and family.

These may be some of the reactions your children will have, but there is a good chance there will be others as well. If you are aware of some difficult feelings your children may be having, it will be easier to understand their emotional state and behavior and to be a resource for them.

What’s not to like about school ending? First of all, it has the potential to spur a bout of separation anxiety. For some young children, they have become very attached to their teachers and saying good-bye to them can be very emotional. The better the teacher, the more likely the child will negatively anticipate being without them.

If your child will being moving on to a new school after this year – from preschool to elementary school, from elementary school to middle school, from middle school to high school– leaving behind a familiar environment where they have become comfortable and a community they know, can raise both separation anxiety and fear of the unknown that they’ll face in the fall.

For those children who are graduating high school and leaving for college, they are not only leaving the familiarity of their school, but they are leaving the nest of their home and family as well. However excited they are about being away and on their own, they are at least equally reluctant to move towards becoming independent young adults.

How can know if your child is experiencing these emotions? In some cases there is very obvious sadness and verbal expressions of the difficulty of leaving teachers, schools and friends behind. However, many children manifest these feelings by having sleep problems, becoming more contrary, exhibiting moodiness, or showing more anger than usual over unrelated issues.

It’s very typical for high school seniors to spend the summer before college fighting with their parents over almost anything. While many parents see this behavior as provocative, unpleasant, contrary to the connection they’d like to make before their children leave, and , sometimes, downright ungrateful (as they face huge tuition college bills), it helps to interpret it in a different light. Your children are putting distance between themselves and you in order to be more ok with having to leave you.

What’s the best way to handle the emotional changes your children may be going through? If your children can verbalize their sadness and/or fear, you have the easier task. The key is to empathize. Let them know that lots of kids feel that way, even that you felt that way as a child. Also let them know that those feelings of missing the teacher or school they are leaving pass quickly after they say goodbye (which they do!). Also, let them know that they will have the opportunity to visit their old teacher or old school or have get-togethers with friends who are moving on.

As to their fears about starting a new school, again, let them know this, too, is normal, that everyone feels that way starting a new situation. To the extent that you can, have them visit the new school, perhaps attend a summer program there, or, with younger children, get together with other kids who will be going to the same school (most schools are happy to provide you with contacts.) With older children, emphasize how they were able to make friends at the school which they are leaving and the abilities they’ve developed to repeat this process at a new school.

Planning Your Child’s Summer We have to acknowledge that the old summer days of lazy exploration or running around the neighborhood or hanging out at the beach are not always possible anymore. With so many moms working, children need to be someplace.

To answer that need, there are huge numbers of day camps, specialty camps, sleep away camps, and other adult supervised activities in which to place your child. Many of these sound interesting and enriching, and many are. However, one of the issues parents need to keep in mind is to not involve their children in too many different experiences.

While it may sound great to spend a week at rocket camp, another at art camp, another at surf camp, etc., this kind of schedule also presents children with the challenge of adjusting to too many new environments and having to make new friends over and over. This can take the richness out of “enriching”, depending on who your child is. To the extent that you can provide a more seamless experience, your child will have a chance to settle into a new situation.

And please, unless you’re being told by the school that your children need some academic help to be ready for the fall, DO NOT see summer as a time for learning a foreign language, honing their math skills or completing workbooks you buy. This is supposed to be a time free from such expectations. It would be great if your child enjoyed reading a bit and a trip to the library is a great family activity. Most schools do assign summer reading and for many children this is enough to get through.

If you have the option of having your child spend some days of the week or some weeks of the summer with no structured activities – do it! Hanging out with family and doing family activities, using their imagination to fill their time, and not having to be on a schedule are all great alternatives to the pressure of the school year. To the extent you can provide this, your child will return to school in the fall more refreshed and ready to roll.

HAVE A RELAXED AND HAPPY SUMMER!

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