Changing Schools: Ideas for Adults who Support Children during Transition (2005)
By Cindy Finch, Director, The Children’s School
Transition is a challenge and an opportunity. I think some adults approach transition with dread, seeing the challenges more than the opportunity; other adults approach transition with excitement, seeing more of the opportunity than the challenge. In my family, my husband and I anticipate change very differently and, after more than 30 years of marriage, we can joke about how different our perceptions and reactions often are (and we’ve been totally unsuccessful at changing each other’s deeply embedded perceptions and reactions!). What do you know about how the adults in your family respond to transitions? It matters because, as is often the case, our adult response affects how we support children during times of transition.
Key to supporting children is acknowledging and understanding feelings about an upcoming transition without imposing our own feelings—of anxiety or excitement—too strongly. Some parents respond to a child’s expression of concern about a transition by pointing out all the positive things that go along with the transition, and assuring the child that they’ll be ok. Other parents respond by agreeing with a child’s expression of concern or fear, and they take a commiserating role with the child. If either of these adult responses sounds like something you’ve done, you are absolutely on the right track by being encouraging or understanding of your children.
Something I suggest that goes one step beyond these common responses to children’s strong feelings is this: help children identify the resources in the new school and within themselves for handling issues that might arise during transition. Rather than simply being reassuring, back up your confidence with details—offer that there will be adults who will be there to help, go by the new school and help your child identify adult resources, talk about how you will be in communication with the new school. And, conversely, rather than sliding right into your child’s fear of change, talk with your child about how much confidence you have in his/her ability to adapt to the new school—then honestly talk about the strengths your child takes wherever he/she goes like knowing how to ask for help, sharing ideas and interests in ways that draw people to him/her, etc. Parents can encourage or commiserate AND help a child feel capable in handling change or in getting help in a new situation.
I have absolute confidence in the abilities of the children who are moving from TCS classrooms into new education settings. That doesn’t mean that there won’t be fluttery stomachs, tears, concern and confusion—that goes with the transition territory. The challenge and the opportunity is in learning that transitions can happen successfully, one step at a time, with the support of caring adults who can help identify the strengths and resources at hand.