As we await the termination of more than 50 Chicago public schools, we must reflect on the impact that this event will have on our children’s emotional and mental health. Children occasionally must deal with such emotions, like from the loss of a grandparent from cancer or a live-in parent from divorce. Children also experience such emotions when they lose the setting, faculty, and staff that make up their schools. Because of this, caregivers must take the necessary steps to help children deal with the stress caused by such change.
Be honest now
No matter if your child is five or 15, he should already be aware of the changes he is expected to make. Parenting specialist Angela Rossmanith, notes, “Avoid telling your child about change at the last moment. Give them time to adjust, to ask questions, to be involved in some way.” This is only fair. If your boss was planning to relocate the company, wouldn’t you want to know as soon as possible in order to prepare for the change? The same consideration should be given to your children. They will be the ones who must travel to their new school building, deal with their new teachers, and work in their new classrooms. So allow them enough time to process the change. Letting your children in on what lies ahead will allow them time to fully undergo the grief process.
Keep other things constant
Keep routines in place when your children are dealing with change. Karen Stephens, an early childhood program specialist and parenting writer suggests this: “Daily, predictable routines convey comfort, stability, and dependability to children. They are a great antidote to change, which often makes children feel out of control and helpless.” Stick to the routine of eating dinner each night at the same time, or the routine of taking your child to the library every Saturday — especially as your child adjusts to his or her new school situation. Also, keep other school-related issues that you can control the same, such as the types of lunches you pack for your child, or the time your child does homework.
Never let them see you sweat
You may be just as angry or disappointed as your child because of a school closure. Allow yourself time to grieve as well, but just not in front of your child. Again, children thrive in consistency and stability. When you are unnerved by change, your children will become even more stressed, because the persons they lean on for support no longer seem able to give it. Remain calm when you hear references to your child’s school closing. Instead of shouting at the TV or holding a vehement discussion over the phone, practice the method of restraint. Staying calm stops the anxiety and stress in your voice from reaching your children. It also allows them to view you as a great sounding board in order to relieve their own stress.
Make physical preparations for change
Lastly, get your child physically ready to change schools. Keep abreast of the latest news in regards to school closures. Watch out for letters, as well as any school-related phone and e-mail announcements, sent home from your child’s school about the closures. As your child’s school reports information to you, report this information to your child. Dr. Clare Bailey, of parent coaching organization Parenting Matters, advises parents to discuss with their children the details of everything the new school has to offer before the academic year begins. Your child, for instance, might have to attend school in a different location. Be sure to visit the new building with your child before the first day. If your child will be attending the same school with different classmates, discuss with your child ways to make new friends or how to not give in to peer pressure.
The more you talk to your child about what to expect, the better your child will be able to chances that come.