Ahh, spring fever is in full swing and summer is right
around the corner. Summer tends to be a more relaxing time of year for many
families—it's also a transitional period.
School and childcare programs are either ending or winding
down, your work hours may be shifting or lightening, and the whole family may
be planning for special outings or a vacation.
While a lighter schedule probably sounds like welcome relief
to you, your child may be reacting quite differently. At this time of year I
get many more requests for help from parents—my child is regressing, whining
more, waking up at night or refusing to go to bed, and throwing more tantrums!
What's going on?
going on? It is
the anticipation that a shift in their routine is fast approaching that your
child is reacting to. Remember—endings and change are tough on toddlers. This
includes the end of school, even if your child will return in the fall or
attend a summer camp at school.
With no sense of time, these changes and endings can feel
confusing and often scary.
Recently at the Toddler Center, where I have the pleasure of
living in the toddler world with young learners, one of our teachers announced
to the children that school would soon be closing for the summer.
One 3-year-old immediately blurted out, “Oh no! School is
closing, oh no!" as he punched his
fist in the air.
I suspect this is how most children feel as the
year winds down. We always tell the children that school closes for summer and
that's not your fault. Children sometimes think they caused their
friends and teachers to go away.
Here's what you can do to make the summer a smooth transition for your toddler.
Don't force goodbyes.
As the end of school approaches, I hear lots of parents
report that their children are regressing or falling apart.
Goodbyes and change can be unsettling and every child has
their own way of handling it.
One of my own children used to avoid goodbyes to friends,
family members, and teachers by simply walking out on play dates or leaving
school at the end of the day without a word. This was his way of avoiding a
Since then, he has learned how to handle his feelings in
tough situations and I'm proud to say he's become a well-mannered teenager who politely
says 'hello' and 'goodbye.'
Pro tip: Give your child the space he or she
needs to wrestle with their feelings. Don't force them into saying goodbye if
they seem resistant. Instead, you can say goodbye for them. That way, you model
it without any pressure on your child.
Be aware of your own reaction.
Adults don't often like goodbyes either. You, too, may have
to say goodbye to a favorite teacher and a community you embraced.
Graduating to a new school for kindergarten or first grade
is also a reminder that your child is growing up. With growing up comes a sense
Recognize your own feelings, too.
A good way to mark endings and the completion of the year in
a joyful way is to plan a small celebration at home, or out with friends and
extended family. This concretely marks the occasion for your child, in a
positive way, and helps gives them closure.
Make an end-of-year cake or have a celebratory picnic or
play date with friends in a nearby park.
Create a 'memory list' with your child that lets them recall
all the fun things that happened at school. Have them decorate it and hang on
the wall to celebrate the year.
Paint pictures, make cards, or purchase small gifts like
flower seeds, bubbles, or sidewalk chalk for their teacher and classmates.
It's nice to mark these passages in a celebratory way.
A girlfriend and I took our children to a
special ice cream parlor on the last day of school for years. We walked there
together with our kids and ate ice cream on the same bench each year. It became
our marker of the last day of school. Rituals like this help your child
transition more easily.
Stay in the present.
Once you've had a joyful celebration that marks the school
year winding down, you may be tempted to turn to next year. I advise you to
hold off on that. Better to downplay talk about a new teacher, school, or
For your child, fall is an eternity away. Let your toddler enjoy summer first. You will, too.
For more insights on how to promote lifelong success in your little one year-round, check out my book, How Toddlers Thrive.