The school year is winding down and the summer is in sight...finally, a two-month reprieve from homework, busy schedules and strict bedtimes. This break sounds great, but for some kids, thoughts of the long summer ahead isn't as exciting as it may seem. In fact, many children secretly love the school year - even while they are complaining about it. They may feel a little sad during the last weeks of the school year and the first days of summer.
To start, most children become attached to their school-year routine and feel unsettled, even lost when it is abandoned or changed to accommodate summer's schedule. As adults, we may find a day-after-day routine boring, predictable and unsatisfying. As such, we underestimate the value of routine in a child’s life.
For your child, routine is comforting and creates a feeling of safety and security. For kids, schedules and routines are directly tied to accomplishment. For example, a child is less likely to complete homework successfully without a predictable daily routine. Your child may fight your attempts to create daily routines, but a change once school ends, can make him feel uneasy and can trigger negative behavior. It is therefore important to make sure that as you transition to summer, you create a new, but equally predictable daily routine on which your child can rely.
Another potential end-of-the-school-year stressor is that your child may have become attached to her teacher, and feel sad, anticipating the loss of this special relationship. A child spends many hours a week with a teacher; teachers invest enormous energy, compassion and enthusiasm into the relationship they have with their students.
For elementary-age students, a teacher can be as influential as a parent, so it is important not to deny your child the opportunity to express emotions. Help your child transition out of this school year and into the summer by suggesting ways your child can honor their teacher and experience the all-important closure they need. Suggest that he or she write a poem, decorate a card, or create a craft project for his or her teacher. Explain that it is normal to feel sad and remind them that they will still be able to visit their teacher once the new school year begins.
Finally, children typically worry about missing their school-friends during the summer months. They may not go to the same summer program or they may visit different pools or beaches. Even if a child does spend time with some school-friends during the summer months, it might not feel quite as joyful without the comfort of the school playground or all the other kids. Your child understands that the familiar games or sports played during recess every day during the school year become different in the summer, and it may not be possible to recreate these in the next school year with new friends in a new class.
Of course, the summer is a magical time for kids-swimming, ice-pops and lots of time in the sun. But, as you can see, the transitional period from school to summer can include a mix of feelings, both happy and sad. These feelings may be expressed through acting-out behavior, difficulty sleeping and more crying than usual. Your understanding and support will make this period easier for your child-and you.
Dr. Susan Bartell is a nationally recognized psychologist and author. You can learn more about her at drsusanbartell.com.
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