The holidays are a time when we are often preparing for school transition and change. We prioritise our children in this situation. But what about us?
We live in a society these days where people experience high levels of anxiety. By ‘high’ I mean constant worrying about the future and what might go wrong and be challenging or thinking back over the past and ruminating about what might have been done or said differently. We are focusing on times which in the present moment, we have no control over, yet we persist on dwelling in these places.
When our children are making a transition from one stage to another, maybe starting school, or moving from primary to secondary, it is natural to want to make sure that we prepare them for that transition as much as we can. We do the practical things, like buy and name uniform. We organise school bags and buy pencil cases of their choosing, elements we can control which feel useful and are another tick on the never ending ‘to do’ list.
But what about how we are feeling emotionally about this transition, this move for our children into a new stage of their lives?
Often we don’t give ourselves permission to feel this emotion, because we tell ourselves that it is not about us, it is about them, so we hold those emotions inside and don’t give ourselves permission to feel them.
But what if it is about us and not about them?
What if, the way we manage our own anxiety and sense of anticipation has a direct bearing on how our children experience that transition?
The bottom line is, we are role models for our children, in every aspect of our lives. How we treat other people, how we behave in relationships, and how we experience transition and change.
Very often I observe what I call ‘expression of anxiety’ in the school transition period. We have a tendency to want to make everything perfect. we also worry about our children not being with their friends in classes and go to great lengths to change things because ‘they are not happy’. Are they really not happy or is this an expression of our worry about them?
With our concern about child mental health on the rise, one of the key things we need to focus on with our children is building resilience, having the ability to adjust and respond to challenging situations and move forward. The issue of friendships can be a key sticking point as us parents will often analyse, and maintain a sense of safety if their children have their friends in their class, almost as if everything will be okay.
The issue is, we are relying on external factors to control and manage how our children feel about a situation, factors which can continually change, rather than bolstering up our child’s sense of self esteem that they can cope because they are amazing human beings with a real skill in making new friends. This is what we should be telling our children, not wringing our hands over the class composition and friendship groups, this is what gives them the ability to cope and manage in every day life.
When my second son transitioned to secondary school, I certainly went through all the moves you are, buying school uniform, organising equipment and getting him ‘ready’. He met his form group and did not have one ‘friend’ in that form. It wasn’t an issue for him and neither was it for me, as I trusted my boy’s capacity to make new friends. Does it mean that I didn’t feel anxious about him going in on the first day and worrying about whether he would be okay? Of course not, it’s normal and natural to feel that way, our children are taking gradual steps away from us and those emotions are normal and natural feelings.
Acknowledge parental anxiety, it is normal. Talk to your children about feeling anxious and use yourself as an example. This does not mean telling them chapter and verse about how you feel, but explaining that sometimes parents feel anxious too, especially when their children are experiencing new things, and this is how you help yourself to manage these feelings.
You are a role model for your children, they will pick up on this, so if you are leading with this example of looking after you, they will, consciously or unconsciously develop their own coping strategies to care for themselves.
Let them go and trust that the values and upbringing you have given them will stand them in good stead. Very often when we are worrying about our children, we forget that our time and attention parenting them means that they are not leaving the house as a blank canvas. They will also, experience challenging situations every day, we cannot and should not wrap them up in cotton wool.
Our instinct is to not let anything ‘bad’ happen to our children, but praising them when something was an issue which they sorted themselves rather than dwelling on the issues helps to build resilience in your child.
And finally…..look after you. I have focused on school transition in this blog, but it could apply to any situation where transition and change is fundamental. We are role models for our children, so if we are actively looking after ourselves, enjoying our own lives and showing our children how we look after ourselves, our children will learn from us and our behaviour. Sometimes that ‘looking after’ can involve speaking to someone outside of the home about how we are feeling. If that is you then please consider it as sometimes as parents we sometimes become so overwhelmed without realising that we cannot see the wood for the trees. I see parents every day who struggle to obtain a perspective over a situation which feels like it is overwhelming them, and time spent with someone balancing the mind and our thoughts can be hugely beneficial, techniques we can then pass on to our children.
You are doing an amazing job, you are a caring and loving parent who wants the best for their children, just don’t forget about you in the process.
Love Clare x
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