The month of May is all about graduations, moving up ceremonies and commencements. It is a time to feel a little sad about “how fast they grow up”, and to feel joyous about the wonderful milestones and accomplishments. This year I have, a child graduating from high school, another from middle school, and two nieces leaving elementary school!
Whether your child is facing a significant graduation, or simply moving from one grade to the next, this time of year is filled with mixed feelings, not only for you, but for your child as well. You might be surprised to learn, that not all kids are excited or happy about leaving a school, grade or teacher. Many are sad to leave the classroom in which they have accomplished so much, or the routine to which they have become accustomed. They may miss a teacher with whom they have formed a strong relationship, and they often worry that they won’t have friends in their class next year.
Of course, some kids make the transition easily and are excited to move on and up! Never the less, just about every child feels some small worry and ambivalence about transitioning. In order to help your child face the transition in a positive and optimistic manner, it is important to be aware of the feelings that he or she may be experiencing. Here are a few ideas that will help you and your child say goodbye to this school year in a positive and optimistic way:
Focus on facts: Remind your child about all that he learned during this school year, and point out that next year will be just as productive. For example, this year he may have read his first chapter book, but next year, he’ll read a whole series! This year he learned how to play basketball, but next year he’ll be a comfortable part of the team. The more you focus on positive milestones to reach in the upcoming year, the easier it will be for your child to be excited, rather than ambivalent.
Make memories: Saying goodbye to people and places is a natural part of life, and one that your child will confront many, many times over the course of a lifetime. It is important to validate your child’s sad feelings and help her cope with them. Give her a camera and encourage her to take it to school and take pictures and video that will document the building, classroom, teachers and classmates. Help her create an album or scrapbook with the pictures that she can keep as a positive reminder of this school year.
Encourage emotion: Most kids have been socialized (by the media and their peers) to believe that they should be thrilled that school is ending. However, many children and teens enjoy the learning, the structure, and the time with friends, much more than they value a long vacation. However, they keep these feelings hidden because they don’t think it is ‘normal’ or ‘cool’ to feel sad about school ending. You can help your child understand his feelings, but reminding him that all feelings are normal and that it is okay to be upset about school ending. The more opportunities your child has to talk about his feelings, the more easily he will make the transition.
You should not be embarrassed to talk about your feelings as your child grows up. It can be beneficial to talk to other parents in order to share feelings about your child (and you) reaching these milestones. Remember that all feelings are ‘normal’!
Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. You can learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com.