Managing change – transitioning into school holidays

With school holidays just about to begin, here’s a useful article about how to cope with and manage some of the changes your child might be facing right now. There’s also useful tips and some inspiration for fun activities to do together.

Whether it’s dealing with the transition from school to summer holidays, starting school for the first time in September or moving from primary to secondary school, we’ve got some helpful advice and workable solutions for you.

So, we’ll start with the transition to school holidays. As adults we often forget that significant changes to daily routine can be disruptive for many children. And while most children are desperately looking forward to being off school, the reality is that the sudden change in routine can be very scary and difficult to cope with.

School-Children-Leaving-SchoolFor the general population of children, this transition can be made relatively easily, though it may take a little time to settle into the different routine and make the adjustment. How many parents have been flummoxed when their child is dysregulated or easily upset during the first few days of a much anticipated school holiday? Adults and children can find a change in the normal routine uncomfortable as change can threaten our ‘secure base’ and lead to raised anxiety levels. Usually anxiety levels are reduced for all of us when the new routine is perceived as ‘safe’.

For looked after and adopted children, transitions and new routines are much harder to cope with and any transition may be experienced as terrifying and a threat to their safety. Adopted and looked after children often have no internalised sense of safety and may be ‘hardwired’ by their early experience to manage transition in survival mode, which often leads to a fight, flight or freeze response to a change in routine. It is important to plan for transition and support it, with a view to reducing anxiety and promoting security.

There are ways you as a parent or carer can make this transition a little less scary and also use it as an opportunity to build your parent / child attachment at the same time.

Here are our top eight tips (simply click on the links below):

1. Create a visual countdown and timetable
Children may respond better to visual cues than verbal explanations, and young children in particular have a limited concept of time. It can be more effective to visualise what they’ll be doing and when they’ll be doing it. Use a calendar to cross off days until the holidays begin, and / or cross off each day during the holidays, and maybe draw pictures on certain days that you have activities planned. For example a scribble of a bucket and spade denotes your planned trip to the seaside.

2. Think about and plan for that first week of the holidays
This is likely to be one of the most challenging weeks getting accustomed to the change in routine. As a parent or carer perhaps consider taking some days off this first week, unless of course you are fortunate enough to have the holidays off too. It’s important to be there to reassure your child and to introduce them to any adults who may be taking over childcare or running holiday groups to confirm other adults are ‘safe’.

3. Keep plans simple and flexible – remember kids like downtime too
As adults, we can sometimes become pre-occupied with cramming as many activities into the school holidays as possible, in our endeavours to give our kids the “most fun time”. But children actually need downtime. In fact most children like nothing better than to be hanging out at home. What’s important to them is spending time with you, so think about interspersing the big days out with stay at home days or going out locally. Most looked after and adopted children in particular will be really tired having used their energy to hold things together at school and sustain this for six weeks. They will need a rest and chance to relax and process the previous term.

4. Acknowledge what your child is going through
Empathise with your child about how they might be feeling and validate their emotions rather than dismissing them by saying: “It’ll be fine”, “Don’t worry” or “You’re a big boy / girl now.” Explore how they are feeling by observing behaviour, then ‘wondering / noticing / guessing’. For example you could say: “I guess you might be feeling a bit worried about the holiday club. That’s really normal. It’s hard starting something new.” Suggest planning together to alleviate anxiety, such as: “Let’s think about what we can do to make it less scary. I wonder if it would help to ………” This is the time to help express emotions, offer validation and give them the much-needed reassurance they need during these unsettled times.

5. Get creative
Why not make a scrapbook during the holidays with your child? Stick in photographs, admission tickets, postcards and get your child to add some drawings of the fun days you’ve had together. Not only will this provide a nice memento for your child, it also acts as something to look back at and refer to for reassurance when transitioning into holidays the following year.

6. Let your child know you’re thinking of them when you are apart
If your child is going away with friends or family during the holiday, make sure you send them off with some ‘transition objects’ – those items that give them reassurance and remind them of the security they have at home. For example, their favourite teddy or even one of your t-shirts with your perfume on it that will remind them of you. As a nice little added surprise, why not pop in a little note to say “thinking of you” into their pyjama case.

7. Be aware of your child’s sensory needs
When children are feeling particularly anxious, their sensory needs can be heightened. For most children that may mean they need to go and release some energy on a daily basis, by climbing trees, going to the local park or playground, going swimming or to an adventure playground. Some children are ‘sensory defensive’ and may experience greater anxiety and a feeling of being overwhelmed if they find themselves in places with lots of people. Think about how your child manages busy, noisy places or activities which require them to be still for long periods of time, and use this information when planning outings and activities. There will be more sensory strategies to help you survive the summer coming soon.

8. Add some ‘special time’ to your child’s life
Allocate 10 minutes a day, if you can, where your child takes the lead. Do whatever they want and resist the urge to teach them, take the lead, question or do anything other than connect. This ideally would happen every day, or routinely, to help support the child’s attachment relationship with their adoptive parent.

Try doing this with all your children, if you have more than one, but at separate times so they each have your undivided attention. Switch off all distractions, such as your phone, so you won’t be disturbed and say to your child: “I’m all yours for 10 minutes. What would you like to do?” If they want to play with their toys, lie on their beds and look at the ceiling, or paint a picture, let them. Just observe, give commentary to reflect what they are doing, follow their lead and give them your full attention. Children can sense the presence of adults, and special time can help them to feel safe and secure in your company.

For those with adolescents, a different approach is needed. It might be a question of making yourself available in a more subtle way. Be there with a snack when they come in late, read a magazine in the same room when they are playing a computer game or take advantage of any free time spent together to have a drink in a cafe, watch TV or even do some cooking.

Genuine caring makes a huge difference to children and adolescents. They may fight it or absorb it, but they need to feel their parents giving it. ‘Special time’, announced or unannounced, is a tool that helps parents give vital caring to their child.

We hope you enjoy some quality time together with your child during the holidays and find some of these tips and techniques useful. We’ll be posting more Family Futures tips on social media over the summer.

With thanks to Family Futures.