Four Tips to Help Manage Academic Transitions
Transitions are hard for all of us. Single to married, married to single, new jobs, new homes, you name it. When we go through a transition, it is as if our internal hardwiring is reprogrammed and rewrites itself all over again. We emerge new and refreshed, with some of our old traits but with new knowledge, new skills and new experiences to shape our future selves.
It is the same for our children as they make big transitions in their academic and social lives – from PreK to kindergarten, elementary to middle school, and middle school to high school. With each major transition, they are rewriting who they are and collecting new traits and experiences that will collectively mold them into adults one day.
When looking at academic and social transitions for our children, we often fret over the minor things such as uniform changes, new dismissal times and carpool schedules, and homework load. But in addition to those surface-level changes, there are big transitions happening as our toddlers learn to carry their own backpacks and wave goodbye to the car rather than being escorted to the classroom. Or as our new middle school student juggles the minefield of hormones and evolving friendships. Or as a freshman, who was just a little 8th-grader a few months ago, navigates the new hallways of high school with peers who are of age to vote.
With kids of all ages in mind, here are a few tips for parents to consider when developing strategies to help their children cope and succeed with academic transitions.
1. Create a partnership with your child’s school and teachers.
The phrase that “it takes a village to raise a child” extends to the classroom, too. It takes a village to educate a child. When looking at school choices (whether PreK, middle or high school), meet with the prospective teachers and administrators. Ask about their education philosophies and how you can work together to create an environment that will allow your child to thrive and grow. While schools are the experts in curriculum and academics, you are the expert in your child and his or her needs. Working together is essential and also demonstrates to your child that their education is a top priority for you. Learn more about the importance of school/family partnerships here.
2. Encourage self advocacy.
Encourage your child to advocate for himself or herself and give them the space to make their own choices (with some guardrails). Children need to build their confidence and find their voices, and these skills have long-term benefits throughout life, especially when facing new situations. Whether advocating for themselves in the classroom or with their peers, kids need to become comfortable with understanding and expressing their needs early and often when navigating through periods of transition in their lives. For example, a new middle school student adapting to new technology in the classroom may need to articulate to the teacher when he needs extra guidance or help before he falls behind. Or a new high school student with an IEP or 504 Plan would find great benefit from actively participating in meetings early on to talk about goals and expectations. Or, perhaps a child is having an issue with a new friend at school and needs to articulate her feelings and problem solve on her own. All of these scenarios require confidence, assertiveness and communication skills that are developed over time. Schools and parents can partner together to cultivate an environment of self advocacy, independence and personal responsibility and to help ease transitions in new situations throughout life. Learn more about self advocacy here and here.
3. Allow kids to struggle.
This one is hard. Of course we want to provide a safety net for our children so that they never have to feel the sting of disappointment or defeat. Helping your child to operate with a growth mindset is the best way that schools and parents can partner together to help children become resilient and confident. During periods of transition, children will be faced with many new experiences, choices and activities, and with those new experiences come new opportunities to be challenged. When children embrace a growth mindset, they meet these challenges head on, become innovative in new approaches to problem-solving, and develop strong work ethics and resilience.
More than anything, communication is key. Keep open dialogue between you and your child, you and the school, and your child and their teachers. When we are all communicating in tandem, problems may be addressed right away and head-on. When you model clear and open communication to your child, regardless of their age, you are demonstrating your confidence in them to process information, self advocate and establish respect. This will encourage and inspire them to utilize this same clear and direct communication mindset when communicating with other adults, their teachers and their peers. In periods of transition, communication is essential to ensure that expectations are clearly established and understood and to address problems or issues head-on early and quickly. More information about communication with your child can be found here, here, and here.
The Academy of the Sacred Heart and Berchmans Academy have been helping students navigate these major academic and social transitions for nearly 200 years. The educators and administrators at these schools have made it their mission to educate the whole child, not just their academic needs. In addition, the all-girls classes at the Academy and all-boys classes at Berchmans foster independence, autonomy, confidence and communication skills, as well as academic rigor and spiritual development.
Aimee Cotter is the proud wife of her very understanding husband, Con, three energetic children, Claire (10), James (7), and William (6), and their new pandemic puppy, Belle (9 months). Her hobbies include preparing snacks, supervising teeth brushing, moderating disagreements, and refilling the hot water in her bath at least 2 times each night. When she is not busy rustling up 35 different types of snacks each day for her roommates, she also works full time as the Director of Advancement at the Academy of the Sacred Heart and Berchmans Academy.