May 27, 2014
The fast-approaching end of the school year marks the beginning of summer break! For many, this means outdoor playgrounds and fields or summer camp. While certain children glide through this transition with joy, others regard this period with worry, stress and even insecurity.
Just a short time before summer recess, several children experience a mixture of fatigue and excitement. Much like when adults can’t wait to take time off from work to go on vacation, minutes seem like hours and hours like centuries! Please be indulgent to our beloved schoolchildren; they can certainly use some time off to recuperate.
Which children are more likely to find this transition difficult?
- Children with academic achievement and development that prove to be stronger and truly rewarding are more at risk of anticipating school end and day camp (which tend to be more sports-oriented) with concern and mixed emotions;
- Anxious children with poor planning abilities to face the challenge of adapting to new conditions. This often results in the acquisition of adaptation skills being hindered and sleeping and eating patterns being slightly altered. Other consequences may include feelings of agitation and fatigue and an outpouring of questions about the approaching day camp season, etc. This can go on for a few days or weeks;
- Young children aged 5-6 year undergoing their first day camp experience (which differs from daycare);
- Children who fail to rely on a proper adaptation strategy (any new situation has the potential to temporarily destabilize a child);
- Children affected by a major change that just occurred (e.g. as a result of moving or of the parting of the parents) are more likely to find this transition difficult as this challenge adds up to what they already go through every day;
- Any child with an affective disorder ― a neurological condition makes it more difficult for the child to adjust to change.
What is it that is worrisome for children?
- The challenge of adjusting to a new physical and social environment (e.g. “Will I make friends?” “Who’s going to take care of me?” “How long will I stay there?” “Where will I sleep?” “Will they laugh at me?”);
- Logistics (e.g. “How will I get to the park?” “Who’s going to pick me up?” “What will I eat?” “Where will I go if it rains?” “What if I miss mom and dad?” “What if I don’t feel well?” “What time will I wake up and leave in the morning?”);
- The proposed activities (e.g. “Are we going to play a lot of team games (I always get picked last)?” “Are we going to do only sports activities?” “Will I have to participate in all activities?” “What if I get tired?”).
Tips to support your child’s change in routine
- Choose (if possible) a day camp that suggests activities that mesh with your child's personal interests (drawing, tennis, science, etc.);
- Ask your child to list all the things that he’s concerned with. This will allow him to identify clearly and externalize his feelings of fear and free himself from them;
- Encourage your child to take responsibility in his search for adaptive strategies. Join him by asking questions that will help him find solutions to tackle all listed challenges. The child can then choose those available solutions which best fit his needs according to the situation. Children tend to be resourceful when given the opportunity to find solutions on their own;
- Acknowledge the child’s fears and be reassuring by making him understand that these feelings are normal (e.g. “You are afraid of not knowing anybody there. I understand. I know it’s difficult and intimidating just to be part of a group of people we don’t know. This happens to me sometimes”). In the case of a younger child, it may be a good idea to provide him with information about the camp and, if possible, to visit the facilities with him just to get an idea of the physical environment and to alleviate the feeling of being apprehensive about change;
- Mark the family calendar to indicate the remaining school days and the first days of summer recess and day camp;
- Take a hands-off approach and be open to what your child tells you upon return from the first days of camp. It’s important for him to feel listened to and understood as it’s quite usual for a child not to be pleased with his new environment right away. There is no need to try to persuade him otherwise. Eventually, he will find good things to say.
Don’t forget to plan time to relax on weeknights and weekends. Children are quite stimulated in the daytime and need some rest in the evening.
Remember that every child is different and adapts differently to new situations. It is normal to have concerns and to feel uncomfortable at times. This is all part of the process of achieving learning objectives and acquiring the tools needed to eventually run one’s own life. Our role is not to prevent discomfort, but instead to empower our children to adapt in their own lives. Patience, composure, listening capacity and empathy are therefore needed!
Hélène Fagnan, Family Coach
Founder of Nanny Secours (French only)
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