The end of the school year, with graduations, continuations and so many other ceremonies and transitions, is a poignant and emotional time for parents. Whether it’s the last day of preschool or high school graduation, parents are always going to be flooded with excitement, apprehension and wistfulness at the passing of time. We find ourselves grasping at both the memories of events and also what it felt like “before.” Wasn’t it only yesterday that we were holding our babies? And now we’re listening to “Pomp and Circumstance Marches?”
How can we reconcile all these complicated feelings, letting our kids go while still supporting them in what they’re going through while also taking care of ourselves? This is difficult for all of us, and it isn’t easy to prepare for how you’re going to feel as your children grow up. It is hard for our kids, too. It is not surprising that even normal school transitions are understood as “risk factors” in children. It’s one of the reasons that celebrations and rites of passage are important; they create markers and allow us to prepare for what’s next.
Things are easier for us all when transitions are a carefully managed process. Of course we’re all wired differently and some kids will naturally embrace change, while others will be anxious about anything that seems new. Schools do a great job of preparing for next stages. We watched this week as fourth-graders walked into Aspen Middle School, bright-eyed, happy and confident in the big new building. And the prolonged senior “farewell” at Aspen High School is a remarkable and generous demonstration of school and community affection for our young people, many of whom have been together since preschool. If marking the passage of time helps us all prepare for future success, then in this small community, we absolutely get an A.
But as parents play the key part in managing change here, let’s share some experiences and thoughts. Begin by doing whatever you can to park your own feelings in public. It should go without saying that if you show fear and anxiety, your children will feel likewise. We remember lying awake at night, scanning the rolodex of worries, reviewing every possible hazard that could befall our children — riding the bus for the first time, social interactions, struggling academically and 50 million others. And yet, they adjusted and before we knew it, we were lying awake worrying about 50 million other things. But they don’t need to know that. Keep smiling, keep encouraging and save your tears for when the school bus disappears around the corner. Trust us — they’ll be fine. And yes, we still lie awake and worry about them from time to time.
To embrace change, prepare for and anticipate new routines as best you can. Give your children new bits of independence to make them feel empowered and “grown-up,” whether it’s choosing a new backpack or being allowed to stay up a little later. These things build confidence. You might also consider adding in some new responsibilities, too, as they become old enough to help a little more around the house.
There are also two beautiful ingredients to parental success that we can all strive to provide.
Firstly, do whatever you can to keep things stable and calm in your home. Your home is the bedrock, the place of safety. Your new college student, just like your new kindergartener, will derive comfort and calm from knowing that all is well back at home. They need to know that things will be just as they are supposed to be as they navigate new territory outside the home.
Second, keep talking, sharing, asking open-ended questions (not prying), and be available to process and understand what they’re going through. It won’t always be easy for them, and actually, it shouldn’t be. We all have to resist the urge to rush in at the first sign of trouble and make everything alright, by sounding the alarm, calling the school, panicking. Resist that urge! They will get through, and they need to hear that from you. Breathe! This is our children’s journey and by navigating the choppy seas now, they will be so much better prepared for the bigger waves awaiting them later in life.
Growing Community, by Shirley Ritter, the director of Kids First, and Katherine Sand, the director of Aspen Family Connections, runs every other Wednesday in the Aspen Daily News. It features topics of interest related to early childhood, parenting and education. To reach the authors, email Shirley at firstname.lastname@example.org or Katherine at email@example.com.