Transitions- Stumbling and Grace
If you work in special education you know that “difficulty with transitions” is a phrase uttered repeatedly when discussing our students’ challenges. As the new school year begins we will see many children embody this difficulty with tears and clinging to their parents as they are asked to separate at the school entrance. Learning how to navigate change is a lifelong process that can bring many of us to tears as we cling to the familiar. I have been reflecting on this a great deal lately as I enter into a new phase in my own life. My youngest child just entered college and I downsized from our long-time home to a more manageable, smaller house. I thought I would move through this without incident, keeping up with my hectic schedule, barely missing a beat. How wrong I was! Instead I dropped nearly every ball and stumbled through now facing the reality that the new school year is about to begin and I have seemingly missed the summer.
Why are transitions so hard? Neuroscience may offer up some answers. Our brain seeks to conserve energy and routines create well worn grooves in the brain so that we can move through life with relative ease. Our bodies crave homeostasis or a return to our baseline. The familiar makes us feel safe. Stress and change go hand in hand as we must use effort to change and grow. Often stress gets a bad rap but it is only through stress that we evolve and develop. A muscle needs to be broken down in order to create new fibers. We must also be broken open in order to expand. Children are constantly being asked to change and with this change will likely come stress and struggle.
Is it possible to transition into this new school year with more grace and less overwhelm? Perhaps with some mindful awareness we can transition and change with some more ease. The following are some ideas to serve our students and ourselves:
Create a schedule together. We all like to know what is going to happen. It is so simple to create a schedule but often we don’t include children. When we involve children we can help them to develop a sense of agency and control over their day.
Make it visual, As adults we love to use visual reminders to keep us on track. Children can also benefit from even simple pictures to provide them with a map of the landscape of their day. Visuals become especially important if you are working with children with speech difficulties.
Lower expectations for after school during September. Self regulation is a finite resource. When a child has spent the whole day keeping it together, having to go straight to after-school activities may be too taxing on an exhausted, stressed child. As school professionals, this goes for us as well. We all need time to relax and recharge after school.
Acknowledge the pain. Often when children are upset we try to move them through it with distraction or minimization. This just leads to children not trusting their own feelings. Instead we can allow a child to feel their feelings by holding space for their hurt with our calm, reassuring presence. We can do this for ourselves as well by allowing our emotions to be felt in our bodies giving them space to naturally dissolve.
Remember the body. We can easily become absorbed into our minds and forget that we are meant to move and feel. Children have come off a summer where movement likely trumped thinking so we must give them lots of opportunities to move as we ask them to engage in academics again. Exercise and mindfulness are natural stress busters for both ourselves and children. We all benefit when we connect to ourselves through the body and the breath.
Have fun. Create a plan where joy is at the forefront of both your and your students' day. As school professionals, children become our greatest teachers. We can feed off of their natural joyful energy before we get too caught up in the drama and stress within most school environments.
I hope your transition this year is a smooth one. Reach out and let me know how you deal with transitions or with any other ideas. I love to hear from other professionals as we are all in this together. Please check out my content on instagram @mindfulschoolot as I will be posting more ideas for a mindful, joyful school year.