Are you struggling with the kids more than usual lately?
Maybe when you go to wake your kiddo up for school they announce, “It’s not very sunny today. I don’t think I should go to school” or some other completely over-the-top ploy cleverly orchestrated (or so it seems) to get you to pull the few remaining hairs out of your head.
Maybe they’re fighting with each other more: a fist fight breaks out when your 5 year old wants to get out THE WRONG SIDE OF THE CAR (where their sibling is sitting.)
Maybe they’re having more meltdowns (or you are!)
We always think of the end of the school year as a time of sunshine and picnics with sprinklers and ice cream. Yes, there is that. But in my experience as a parenting coach, I have seen that the last month of school is the hardest for children. And because of that, it’s the hardest month for their parents.
I’m pretty sure we can all guess the first reason: Kids are exhausted. Whether they’re been in-person, virtual school or back-and-forth, school is tiring. It’s only natural that they’re tired after 5 days a week for the last 9 months or so. Plus, we’ve been in a pandemic!
The other big reasons why the end of the year is hard? Anxiety.
We all feel more comfortable and secure with the familiar. Change can make our amygdala, the part of our brain that is always on the lookout for danger, take over. It’s nature’s way of keeping us safe. Some of us have particularly sensitive amygdalas that do TOO good of a job- causing an emergency Fight/Flight/Freeze reaction with any change or even the anticipation of change.
We know that if kids are anxious, they are more likely to get overwhelmed in general (meltdowns!) Anxious kids who are more likely to pick fights (fight!), dig in their heels or not cooperate in general (freeze!), and run the other direction when you try to accomplish anything (flight!) Add in the exhaustion that depletes their self-regulation resources and it’s a recipe for disaster.
Why does the end of the year make kids anxious and what we can do about it?
The unknown makes kids anxious. To us, it might not seem like Grade 3 is The Big Unknown but to our children anything other than what they are currently doing (like Grade 2) can be scary. “Who will be in my class? Who will my teacher be? Will they like me? Will I like them? Where will I sit? Will I have the same bus driver?” There may be other unknowns. “What if I don’t want to go on our family holiday? What if I don’t like my day camp? What if I get homesick at camp?”
“Preparing” for next year makes kids anxious. Many teachers spend a lot of time toward the end of the year preparing kids for next year. These teachers for sure have the kids’ best interests in mind. Still, ‘prepping’ can make kids anxious. This is especially true during transition years, such as kindergarten to Grade 1, elementary to middle school, and middle school to high school. Kids hear things like, “In Grade 1, you’re not going to be able to do XYZ like you can in kindergarten.” Or, “Next year in middle school, your teacher won’t be helping you with ABC.” What if it’s horrible? What if it’s too hard? What if they can’t do it?
Saying goodbye can be hard. Kids get attached to their friends and their teachers. I know my daughter will miss the sweet lunch supervisor she always chats with, Miss Lu. Kids can also get attached to place and to routine. Big feelings can be overwhelming and also send us into an emergency Fight/Flight/Freeze reaction.
What can we do?
First, we want to recognize what is happening. The parents I work with are so relieved when they tell me that they are struggling and I say, “Oh yes! The end of the school year sh*t show!” Most of us recognize the beginning of the school year as a hard time, not the end. In my experience, the last month is way worse than the first. Just knowing that this is a “thing” can help us respond with more compassion and get through it!
Simplify your life as much as possible. What can you say “no” to? Now is the time for jarred spaghetti sauce and pasta, or grilled cheese for dinner. Try to get extra sleep- for the kids and for you. The exhaustion is real.
Acknowledge that change, goodbye, and the unknown are hard. When you are feeling close to your child you can say something like, “Things have been hard lately, huh? I’ve been thinking about it and I think that it might be partly because it’s hard not to know what it’s going to be like next year in Grade 3. I also know that I feel a little nervous when things change- like from school to summer break- and that I feel sad when I have to say goodbye to people I care about, like Mrs. J. I wonder if you ever feel that way?” Welcome all the feelings!
Adapt a “We can handle it” attitude. After you acknowledge your child’s feelings – “of course this is all hard!”- let them know that you’re there to help. You can say to them, “Whatever happens, we can handle it!” They need us to help them embrace the uncertainty. It can be helpful to remind them of a time when they did something hard and were successful. “Remember last year when you started swim class and you didn’t know anyone? You didn’t know what it was going to be like AND you were brave and did it anyway! And how did that turn out?”
Laugh! Laughter decreases anxiety by clearing our bodies of stored up tensions and stress chemicals, like adrenaline and cortisol. Try some ‘scheduled’ laughter for 10 minutes twice a day. Play silly chase games, make your child into a ‘pizza’ or anything that gets your child giggling! (Try to avoid tickling as it can make a child feel powerless and doesn’t provide the same stress relief.)
Increase connection. (some simple ideas here) When we feel connected to our loved ones, we feel we can do or handle anything!
Welcome all feelings to help them move through these hard times. Remember that your job is to empathize, not to fix anything or tell them it’s not a big deal. Welcome their feelings and help them find their tears to empty the emotional backpack. (Don’t know about the emotional backpack? Here’s a link)
The end is close (in a good way!) Hang in there!
Want some more support?
Book a free short consult with me.
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Sarah Rosensweet is a certified peaceful parenting coach, speaker, and educator. She lives in Toronto with her husband and three big kids (ages 15, 18, and 21). Peaceful parenting is a non-punitive, connection-based approach that uses firm limits with lots of empathy. Sarah works one-on-one virtually with parents all over the world to help them go from frustrated and overwhelmed to, “We’ve got this!”
Read more at: www.sarahrosensweet.com
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