Springing into summer; mindful transitions at the end of the school year

As the school year draws to a close, parents and teachers all see a shift in the children. Some see the kids get more and more sluggish as the academic year winds down, while others see some kids get more wound up and anxious. The thing that we all witness across the board is this; all the kids (and the adults) feel the transition to summer coming as well as the transition to a new grade with all the unknowns that shift contains, different classmates, new teachers, new challenges.

I took it upon myself on behalf of all fellow parents to ask one of our contributing writers, psychologist Vinay Gaglani for advice regarding easing this transition into summer. You’re welcome!

At this point in the school year, enthusiasm is dwindling

A: Do you have any advice to parents and teachers to help the kids with this last push of the school year?

V: The final weeks of the school year are often marked by stress and exhaustion, especially for older children. I believe that a little preparation for this time of year can make for a more seamless transition into the last weeks of school, and into summer.

For those children who experience anxiety about the transition, parents can initiate conversations that prepare kids for the transition, and allow for feelings to emerge. Role playing, using toys to prepare for saying goodbye to friends, gathering contact details for summer playdates, and perhaps even scheduling a playdate for the beginning of the summer break, can give kids a sense of continuity. Conversations with a young child about what will remain the same (the school, lunch room, the principal, and opportunities for recess, and enrichment activities the child enjoys, like art, PE and music), and what will be different (the classroom, the teacher and some of the classmates) can ease the anxieties of a child who expects a complete upheaval.

At this point in the school year, enthusiasm is dwindling, homework takes longer, if it is being completed at all, and parents and children alike are ready for the summer wind-down. I would recommend a conversation encouraging our children to make these last weeks the ones that the teacher remembers most, in a good way, to show them your kids are ready to graduate that grade. I believe this opportunity to leave a good impression, especially with teachers who have been well-respected and great supports through the school year, can provide children a sense of accomplishment and leave them with a good feeling about school to take into the summer, and the next school year.

For those children who are anxious about the transition to summer, upping the frequency of one-on-one special time can be very beneficial. Special time, one of my favorite parenting tools from Patty Wipfler’s Hand In Hand Parenting website, is a short, kid-led, parent-involved activity in which the parent’s only job is to delight in their child, offer warm loving connection, and allow for feelings (for example, about the end of the school year) to naturally bubble to the surface.

For older children and teens, I might suggest journaling about summer goals and how to implement learning from the current year to next year, for example, exploring these three areas: what I’m letting go of or leaving behind this academic year, what I’m bringing with me from this year to the next, what I will try fresh and new over the summer and into next year.

I see this exercise as providing an invaluable boost of self confidence and self esteem

A: When you wrote your article Acknowledging the Glass Half-Full you brought up some very good suggestions in regards to keeping the positive aspects of daily life in the forefront of our memory. This in turn helps us accentuate the positive and let the negative things drift farther down the priority list of memory recall. Are there any of the points you brought up in your article that carry over in helping our children deal with the last leg of the school year?

V: In Acknowledging the Glass Half-Full, I suggested asking kids what three things they’re thankful for at the end of the day, and asking for some original kid-created artwork for my workspace.  When I picture the last push towards summer with my 3rd grader, I imagine taking these ideas in a slightly different direction. In this case, I would ask him to draw a picture of himself at the beginning of 3rd grade, and then, one of him at the end of third grade, with some acknowledgment in words of the skills gained, strengths developed and knowledge acquired over the year. I see this exercise as providing an invaluable boost of self confidence and self esteem. It would also be a wonderful gift for a beloved teacher.

Celebrate a job well done

A: When you, as a parent are tired, how do you acknowledge your tiredness and anticipation of the summer schedule, without letting your feeling affect the family dynamic?

V: It seems that our energy levels as parents are inversely proportional to the perceived closeness of summer vacation– the closer we get, the more exhausted we are! The way I’ve been getting through this is to introduce a little dose of summer vacation into the school week. As it is staying lighter, later, a slightly later bedtime, intentionally given, creates both goodwill in my boys, and a little more space in the evening for evening walks after homework and dinner, grilling out on the patio, sidewalk chalk art, and playtime with neighbors.

Another idea would be to have breakfast outdoors before school, as soon as kids are dressed and ready. The gorgeous morning rays of late Spring and early Summer are perfect for infusing both our kids and ourselves, with some natural mood boosting, anxiety reducing power, to keep them going through the day on a happy, relaxed note.

Perhaps, planning the evening’s post-homework summer activity before the kids go off to school also allows for something to look forward to during the course of the day. And an end of year gathering of classroom peers and parents, allows both parents and kids alike to celebrate a job well done.

A: Any last thoughts about the transition into summer?

V: As a therapist, I frequently use a technique called cognitive restructuring or reframing, where I help my clients trace their anxious feelings back to the thoughts that caused them. I then explore with them, the likelihood or validity of that thought, through exploring past experience, discussing logic behind the thought, exploring the rigidity of the thought and reasons for that rigidity.

The client is then prompted to consider a different perspective or thought process that is more open to possibility, more flexible, gentler and more likely accurate. The feelings usually generated from the new thought tend to be calmer, more hopeful, and more open to the possibility that things might work out ok.  There is no big secret to this method, and we tend to use it without even thinking about it, when helping to allay our children’s worries about an issue.

As parents, we cannot take ownership of this process for our kids, nor can we stop the inevitable tides of change as our kids wrap up one school year and prepare for the next. However, giving our children space to express wishes and fears about the end of the school year, without minimizing or shaming, and helping them adjust the thoughts that lead to some of these intense feelings, builds their emotional intelligence and allows them to experience our support as well as their own competence.


Contributing Writer Vinay Gaglani is a Pacific Northwesterner of Indian descent, an aspiring-to-be-peaceful parent to two amazing boys, and a Licensed Professional Counselor by trade. She is a lover of hiking and tea!

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