By Dr. Susan Bartell

Graduation Can Mean Goodbye

  |  CHILD RAISING   

A local expert—and mom of two who are moving up in school this year—shares her wisdom on how to make this milestone an easier transition for your own child.

graduation milestonesThe month of May is all about graduations, moving-up ceremonies, and commencements. It is a time to feel a little sad about “how fast they grow up,” and to feel joyous about our children’s wonderful a ccomplishments. This year I have one child graduating from high school and another from middle school, plus two nieces leaving elementary school!

Whether your child is facing a significant graduation or simply moving from one grade to the next, this time of year is filled with mixed feelings not only for you, but for your child as well. You might be surprised to learn that not all kids are excited or happy about leaving a school, grade, or teacher. Many are sad to leave the classroom in which they have accomplished so much, or the routine to which they have become accustomed. They may miss a teacher with whom they have formed a strong relationship, and they often worry they won’t have friends in their class next year. Of course, some kids make the transition easily and are excited to move on and up. Nevertheless, just about every child feels some small worry or ambivalence about transitioning. In order to help your child face the transition in a positive manner, it is important to be aware of the feelings that he or she may be experiencing. Here are a few ideas that will help you and your child say goodbye to this school year in an optimistic way:

Focus on facts.
Remind your child about all that he learned during this school year, and point out that next year will be just as productive. For example, this year he may have read his first chapter book, and next year he’ll read a whole series! This year he learned how to play basketball—next year he’ll be a comfortable part of the team. The more you focus on positive milestones to reach in the upcoming year, the easier it will be for your child to be excited rather than ambivalent.

Make memories.
Saying goodbye to people and places is a natural part of life, and one that your child will confront many, many times over the course of a lifetime. It is important to validate your child’s sad feelings and help her cope with them. Give her a camera and encourage her to take it to school to take pictures and video that will document the building, classroom, teachers, and classmates. Help her create an album or scrapbook with the pictures that she can keep as a positive reminder of this school year.

Encourage emotion.
Most kids have been socialized (by the media and their peers) to believe they should be thrilled that school is ending. However, many children and teens enjoy the learning, the structure, and the time with friends much more than they value a long vacation. However, they keep these feelings hidden because they don’t think it is normal or “cool” to feel sad about school ending. You can help your child understand his feelings by reminding him that all feelings are normal and that it is okay to be upset at such life transitions, or when confronted with endings of any kind. The more opportunities your child has to talk about his feelings, the more easily he will make the transition.

You should not be embarrassed to talk about your feelings as your child grows up. It can be beneficial to talk to other parents in order to share feelings about your child (and you) reaching these milestones. Remember that all feelings are “normal”!

Dr. Susan Bartell is a Long Island-based, nationally recognized child psychologist, speaker, and award-winning author. Her latest book is “The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask.” You can learn more about Dr. Bartell at drsusanbartell.com.

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