Saturday, June 23 , 2018, 6:18 pm | Overcast 66º


Alana Walczak: Summertime, and the Transitions Aren’t Easy


As a child, summer meant unstructured time in the muggy, buggy heat of Milwaukee. Playing kick the can with friends in the neighborhood, trying to eat popsicles before they melted all over my sticky hands, eating supper outside on the picnic table, watching fireflies at night.

Summers were fun and carefree.

Fast forward to present day. As a working mom, making the transition to summertime can be filled with stress — for me, for my girls and for our entire family.

By necessity, my children’s lives are structured, full and predictable. When summer rolls around, it always takes some time for all of us to adjust to the “new normal.”

Summer presents the ultimate mental challenge, mapping out a dizzying array of summer camps, vacation days and new pick-up and drop-off times. Although our girls are very lucky to have access to an amazing selection of activities, most camps present challenges since they don’t start as early as school and often don’t include any after care.

And, since mom and dad still have the same full-time jobs they did two weeks ago, it can be a real juggling act!

Most children — and many adults — struggle with transitions. Transitions are usually the most challenging times of the day or the year. Ask any teacher — making the transition from one subject to another, from circle time to recess, from vacation to school — these are the riskiest times. That’s when we’re likely to see meltdowns, tantrums or misbehavior.

There is hope, however. Here are some valuable tips I’ve learned at CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation) for making transitions easier.

» Kids like having information. When we share information with a child, even one who is very young, we demonstrate respect. Even when it seems like they don’t need to know the details, children thrive on knowing what, and knowing why.

“We’re going to pack your lunch tonight because I have an early meeting tomorrow and I don’t want to forget.” Or, “I’m going to start your bath in five minutes because bedtime is in half an hour and I want to have time to read with you.”

Information like this allows kids to learn to anticipate.

» Use a tone of optimism. Even though I’m stressed about how I will juggle the summer, I can project excitement and positivity about it for my girls. This helps them look forward to change with enthusiasm.

» Offer warmth, not orders. “Lunchtime! Get in here right now, you two,” doesn’t make a child want to come anywhere near their parent.

Instead, it might be better to try something like: “You two are having such a good time! Lunch is on the table. After you eat, you can go back and play some more.” This approach carries the kind of warmth that a barked command simply can’t communicate.

It’s not always easy to use this approach (especially on the third or fourth consecutive try), but it is important to remember that children gravitate toward the warmth of their parents and really do want to please us. I’ve learned firsthand that my daughters more easily gravitate toward me — and what I’m suggesting — when I welcome them warmly to the next activity.

» Understand that sometimes, kids just need to protest. This is my least favorite part of things, although I realize this need is true of both kids and adults.

Sometimes, asking someone to move from one activity to the next is just too much. It feels too overwhelming and almost impossible in that moment. I try to have empathy for what they feel and use some of the relaxation skills I’ve learned at CALM to manage my own feelings when my girls are protesting a little too vociferously.

Transitions can be challenging, but they often mean the beginning of a new opportunity. Summer just started. And, before I know it, it will be over and my girls will be starting second grade.

Time is flying by. But by slowing down and trying to experience a little bit of the lazy days of summer, I hope to appreciate this time in their lives and in mine. (And, maybe I’ll squeeze in a few popsicles, too!)

— Alana Walczak is CEO of the nonprofit CALM (Child Abuse Listening Mediation), a leader in developing programs and services that effectively treat child abuse and promote healing, as well as programs that help prevent abuse through family strengthening and support. Click here for more information, or call 805.965.2376. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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