It’s June! And with June comes summer vacation! And with summer vacation comes… anxiety! Yes, anxiety. While many kids gleefully anticipate the start of summer vacation, others feel a growing sense of dread as they contemplate the many changes the end of the school year heralds – leaving familiar friends, teachers and routines and the start of camps, travel, and family visits.
It can be very stressful for 2e children to leave behind what is familiar and routine and transition to something new. For our kids, facing a big change (or even a little change that they perceive as big) can be akin to what an astronaut might feel when they blast into space – a simultaneous rush of exhilaration and abject terror in the face of the complete unknown. Those intense emotions can be totally overwhelming and then BLAMMO, cue the meltdown.
If your kiddo is exhibiting signs of increased anxiety or behaviors, they might be feeling stressed out about the changes that lie ahead. There are a few things you can do to help them prepare for upcoming transitions.
The Imagination Game
At a time when your child is feeling calm and safe and there is not much going on, you can bring up the topic of school ending. Ask them to imagine what it will be like when school is over. How will it feel to be away from friends? Do they think they will see their friends over the summer? If so, ask them to imagine what that will be like. As they answer, validate their responses, even if they are way off base from reality – for instance, you can say something like – “I see you feel really sad that you will never see your friends again. That sounds awful. Do you think we can make some plans with your friends over the summer? What else you do think we could do?”
You can do the same thing with regards to summer plans – encourage your child to imagine what a certain activity might be like. You can use your imagination too and share your ideas with them. If they are nervous about going to a day camp or other new activity, you can share your insight about what it will be like. Ask them to imagine how the other kids going to the camp might feel. There are no wrong answers! You are just using your imagination!
You can also let them know the other kids are probably feeling the same way. In fact, the counselors might be nervous too. They are wondering if your child will like them! Presenting the idea that the teacher or counselor might be nervous too always helped my son feel better about the start of the new school year.
Getting your child to use their imagination to think about what summer might be like, and having you share your thoughts about it will help them process the changes they are about to experience. It can help them pare down all the many thoughts they may be having about what is going to happen in the future so that they are less likely to get overwhelmed. You may want to have a series of little conversations like this over time, as tackling it all at once might be overwhelming.
Another idea is to preview what will be happening using calendars to show your child what will be coming up – later today, tomorrow, next week, next month. Summer may seem like a huge void to your child and they may have no idea of what to expect or what is expected of them. If you can give them a visual guide of what their days will be like beforehand, it can help them mentally prepare for what is coming up. For example, when my son was younger, I would print out a blank calendar for each month and then write in what he would be doing – day camp during the weekday, evening plans and weekend activities too. And I used lots of different colors! That way he could see which camp he was going to which week and he could get a sense of what his schedule would be like. I would also write out a daily calendar so that I could preview the day with him. This way he would have a more immediate sense of what to expect, including when he might have free time.
Like the Imagination Game, previewing is a great strategy for helping your child concretize what will be happening in their future. When they can see what is coming up, they will feel safer and more secure because it provides them with structure during what might otherwise feel like a vast expanse of time. It also helps us as parents. Investing time in helping your child feel safer and more in control will pay dividends later with fewer meltdowns or tantrums and a happier child.