DR. ZAN STRUEBING, SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGIST: Transitions – we experience them continually. Sometimes they happen smoothly and seamlessly; we hardly know they are occurring. In other instances, they are rocky, disruptive, and the cause of utter discontent.
If you have the sense of being a little “off,” chances are, once you pause to reflect, you’ll have that “aha” moment that you are in the throes of a transition. Even as I write, I am still basking in the glow of a lovely trip that allowed me to spend time with my daughter in Chicago. I am left with the task of adapting once again to day-to-day life without her. Ah yes, transitioning again.
Students may not have access to the same coping strategies that adults have developed with time and experience.
For our children, transitions are no less significant. Students, though, may not have access to the same coping strategies that adults have developed with time and experience. As we watch a group of students transitioning from home to school, from one class to another, or from unstructured to structured activities, it is strikingly apparent that some children transition more fluidly than others.
The discrepancy in how well individuals manage transitions is even more pronounced when the shifts are dramatic, such as moving from summer mode to a new grade in the fall or emerging from the rituals surrounding a loss and moving back to daily routines. Those who struggle need our empathy as well as concrete strategies to manage transitional periods and moments.
We need to remember that transitions are genuinely difficult for some of our students (and adult colleagues, for that matter). We cannot presume to know what it feels like for another person to negotiate change, nor can we tell others how they should feel. (I truly wish I could make it illegal to use “should” and “feel” in the same sentence!)
All of this may sound excruciatingly obvious, and yet, I frequently observe well-intentioned individuals underplaying transitions or calling them “no big deal.” True, for some they are not, but for some they certainly are.
Once we have thoughtfully recognized students who struggle with transition, it behooves us to offer simple accommodations. In advance of a transition, give these students notice that a shift is on its way. Alert them at a number of intervals that they will need to shift their environment, their attention, or their expectations. Be gentle and matter-of-fact. Remove the emotion and the urgency from the transition. Simply announce it, and then enter into it without creating unnecessary anxiety.
Having recently enjoyed the opportunity to do some Mindfulness training, I am very excited about its application to the area of transitions. People who struggle with transitions might bring mindful attention – moment-by-moment awareness that is non-judgmental and filled with kindness and curiosity – to their experience. This can help an individual learn how to cope better with their individual challenges.
Educators, who approach transitions mindfully, are likely to be more emotionally attuned and helpful to their students. Even in this moment, I am mindful of missing my daughter, but I am grateful for this moment to contemplate the importance of helping students transition well. Hopefully, you are too.