It’s a new school year and for many of our kids: school, preschool, storytime, soccer, playdates, Mom’s groups and lessons have started up again. And this can be hard on everyone in the family.
Some children handle all the changes well and just roll with it, but for many children the increase in structured time is very challenging. We hear from many parents that their children are doing just great at preschool, daycare or school. But when their children are at home they are acting out. There is an increase in negativity, regression to younger forms of behaviour, increases in toileting and bedwetting accidents, more aggression towards siblings (and sometimes parents), more night waking, and the list goes on.
It’s helpful to know that this is very normal and very common. As we all know, when we are stressed we are not at our best. And all these changes, new activities, classes, groups and schedules are a significant stress on young children. They are under pressure to perform and conform to group expectations. They need to garner all their inner resources and get through the day. Think what it must be like for the child who is used to being at home and is suddenly separated from his or her parents for a significant portion of the day. Or how does it feel to suddenly be in Grade 1 with a full day of school and increased academic expectations? And how does it feel to be the younger sibling left behind?
Of course, for some children this does not present much of a challenge and they just breeze through. But you never know how an individual child will react. Sometimes the child who is most easygoing is the one who is most stressed, and vice verse. Even children who are used to daycare can be stressed by the change to the structured school environment. And the child, who is doing just “great” according to his or her teacher, can be the one who is most difficult at home.
So, what to do?
First of all, recognize that your child or children are under stress, and you may be as well. Acknowledge and talk about the feelings that come up in new environments — the good feelings and the difficult feelings. Talking about negative feelings doesn’t make them worse. In fact, it’s just the opposite.
It is important to be very clear about what behaviour is acceptable and what isn’t. Hurting others and damaging things are not acceptable no matter how your child is feeling. But verbalizing feelings, wanting more of your time and attention, even whining more than usual (as annoying as it is), are acceptable ways of dealing with stress and insecurity.
Cheer Them On!
Let your child know that he or she has what it takes to deal with challenges. Show excitement and encouragement about new adventures into the world.
You are your children’s cheering team. Let them know that you are totally there for them.
If your child is showing continuing signs of intense distress over their new situation, be sure to talk with your child’s teacher or caregivers. The situation may need re-evaluating and a change may be required.
Recognize also that when any of us go through major changes, we crave stability, security, reassurance and familiar routines.
Focus on what hasn’t changed and try to keep those aspects of family life as consistent as possible. You may need to stay with your child longer when you put him or her to bed. Some quiet time together at night to talk about the day, or how he or she is feeling, can strengthen your connection. Allow time for extra cuddles and reassuring hugs. Some babying might be helpful.
Also make sure that your child is eating good healthy food that will provide the nutrients, energy and physical well being that healthy food offers. Try to avoid snacks with high sugar content as they lead to energy spikes and crashes — not a good thing for an already stressed child.
And of the utmost importance, be sure your child is getting lots of opportunity for fresh air and exercise. It’s a great stress reliever and eases the pressure children feel from being in a structured environment during the day.
Watching your child grow and change is one of the most exciting aspects of being a parent.
As your children move out into the world, be sure to maintain the closeness and connection that you have with them. It is the most important bond that they have.
Judy Banfield has a master’s degree in early childhood education, is an internationally certified lactation consultant, and is the owner of downtown Nelson’s Mountain Baby retail store