August’s arrival means a new school year, new routines and, as we stumble out of the COVID-19 pandemic this summer, more uncertainty. Any parent can tell you that children may respond to transition by throwing a tantrum. The catalyst may be simple, like going to a different room in the house, or substantial, like moving to a new home or school. Either way, change provokes anxiety in children. And, if we are honest, in adults too.
My mother, Luz Malpica, is an occupational therapist who devoted her professional life to working with young children and families. She told me that the two best things parents can do to assist children with transition are to prepare and model.
“When you know that change is coming … start preparing [children] as early as you can and in as many ways as possible,” she said. When meeting with the parents of prospective students, she would advise them to start talking about the school with their children months in advance, to share their experiences of school, to drive by the school and even to enjoy the playground a few times. Every little thing you do adds to the toolbox of experience your child will use to cope with the upcoming change.
We can lean on our faith to provide a calming presence our children can depend on.
But sometimes you can’t prepare for change. “That’s when modeling is absolutely essential,” she said. “As a parent, you convey the feelings of safety and security for your child. … [T]hey look to you. Your behavior, your words and your face need to express the feelings you want to elicit in your child.”
As Lutheran caretakers, we can lean on our faith to provide a calming presence our children can depend on. We can also equip our kids with faith practices to apply during difficult moments. Stopping to take three deep breaths, reciting a short prayer or holding a special object can provide comfort.
As I thought about the conversation with my mother, I realized that Jesus did these things for his disciples and for us as well. Jesus often warned them about his suffering and death. He modeled care for neighbors and even strangers. He taught us to pray, left us the sacraments of baptism and communion, and gave us new life. So, as change comes for your kids this season, remember: prepare and model.
- Peace stone: Find a smooth stone. With your child(ren), decorate it with words and/or symbols of peace, such as a cross. Kids can carry their peace stones in their pockets or backpacks and hold them in their palms in times of stress as a reminder that God is our constant source of peace.
- Encouraging words: Prior to the school year or other transitions, read Psalm 46 together in a translation that best suits your child or sing “Be Still and Know” (All Creation Sings, 1083).