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Transitions and Your Children

Transitions and Your Children

Last week I met with our entire eighth grade class, and we discussed the large life change awaiting them in a few months, high school. For many of our students, this is the biggest transition that they have ever gone through, as some have been here since they were three years old. This school is all they know, these peers are their closest friends, and these teachers are more like second parents to them. The shift to a larger high school is nerve racking yet this move is also exciting. We explored the new freedoms and possibilities that lay ahead, but we also mentioned the consequences that come with these new choices. It is scary, but scary can also be exhilarating. 

While preparing to talk to the eighth grade, I came across an article that, as a former soccer goalie, intrigued me. A 2007 study discussed professional goalkeepers and penalty kicks. It stated that statistically, a goalie who stays in the center during a penalty kick has a 33% chance of stopping the ball, yet these goalies only do so 6% of the time (Maureen Breeze, 2019). The decision by the goalkeeper, without thinking through the statistical reality of where the shot may go, makes the conscious choice to react by diving to one extreme or the other. So why do they risk the dive, when standing still could have decent and predictable results?

Simply put, the answer is that we are not good at just standing still.  At this time of year, all of our students are preparing to transition, some as they begin summer break, and others as they prepare to leave ISDenver to go to a brand new school. As human beings, we know that this change is inevitable. We often crave these changes, and act impulsively just to prevent ourselves from remaining still and centered. Some of the changes are these life transitions we expect, like moving up in a grade, having a child, or even the loss of a grandparent. Others are unexpectedly thrown at us, like the entire year of 2020. With this change we notice a shift off our center line, because not doing anything, doesn’t feel right. This movement isn’t always tangible, but might be seen as a change in emotion, behavior, or attitude.

Bruce Feiler recently published a book, Life is in the Transitions, where he explores the nonlinear path that our lives now travel on. His focus is on embracing the hiccups and even the earthquakes that appear as we continue living, by being okay with the fact that life doesn’t play out in the same linear fashion it may have years ago. Expected transitions look different. We may not all go through a midlife crisis at our mid-life point, and that is okay. It is normal to not know what lies ahead, as long as we can find comfort embracing the change. 

Feiler’s greatest piece of advice was, simply put, that “there is no single way to go through a life transition,” but instead a multitude of ways to adapt, rethink, and move on. One thing is certain, however, and developmental psychologists like Erikson, Piaget or Kohlberg will concur, that transitions are essential for growth and development. If we stay stagnant, we can’t grow. 

So as we stand on the goaline, ready to face that shot which is only four weeks away, how can we help our children successfully master this change and, to the same extent, help ourselves? 

A parent might be surprised to notice that their child moving to a new middle school or high school strangely resembles one who might be in a period of grief. But this transition does require a period of mourning, as the life they are leaving behind, the friendship they have built, and the comfort they feel on a daily basis is changing. There are likely feelings of denial, anger, sadness, and acceptance, similar to Kubler-Ross’ model of the grief cycle, and that is okay and in no way negates the positives that come with this transition. How might this show up in our child? It may be a fight between friends over something seamlessly small, because saying goodbye seems easier when you are mad at the other person, or so it seems before you are having to engage in the act.

As a parent or guardian, it is important to acknowledge the emotions that your children are displaying. They may not know why they are acting or feeling a certain way, but if we offer guidance into discussing these feelings, they may figure it out on their own or simply find resolve in the act of exploring these interactions.

As we prepare as adults to aid our kids in the transition from school to summer, it is important to focus on setting up routines. Children do best in a predictable environment. And obviously, the other side to this, is a parent definitely does best in a routine of predictability. I recommend reviewing my previous blog on summer routines to get some ideas. Having a plan makes everyone’s transition smoother.

So while big changes lie ahead, so do big opportunities. The growth that comes from successfully mastering a transition has long-term moral, developmental, and social benefits. During this time, just remember that it is okay to step back and ask for help. It is okay to be unsure of what comes next, and most importantly it is okay to make a mistake. As Richard Branson said: “Every success story is a tale of constant adaption, revision and change.” Embrace the change that lies ahead of us. 

  • SEL
  • Summer
  • high school
  • transitions



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