Reflect on School Year Endings
Late May and early June usually mark some type of ending. Often distracted by end-of-activity celebrations and up-coming summer plans, parents and children tend to focus less on the leave-taking and more on the positive aspects of what lies ahead. While it's important to highlight the bright side of moving forward, take time to reflect on the losses that come with the end of a school year to have more lasting effects on your child's emotional development.
Working Through Goodbyes
Life is full of moments when we must let go and say goodbye. Some goodbyes are temporary (such as saying goodbye to Mom and Dad before a school day), while others are permanent (such as the death of a family pet). School goodbyes happen every year, providing repeated opportunities to help children at different developmental levels acknowledge and express losses and gains that come from ending one school year and beginning another.
Reflecting on goodbyes provides children with a safe, space to think about the relationships and experiences they've shared. You and your child can reflect on what was learned, what will be missed, and what he or she will carry internally into the next year.
Of all teachers, preschool teachers share a particularly close relationship with children in their care. Preschool teachers often step in as parent substitutes throughout the day, helping children manage and master many of their basic needs. Preschool teachers often support students' development in significant ways (such as helping them develop enough comfort to say goodbye to their parents each school day). When a teacher has played such a personal and important role in a child's life, the goodbye is personal and important as well.
Help your child take a more active role in saying goodbye by encouraging him to think of things he likes about his teacher and including him in selecting or making a goodbye gift. At this age, the most meaningful presents are often the simplest: a handmade picture or craft will have more meaning to your child (and his teacher) than a purchased gift. Preschool children often need help putting words to their feelings, so this type of conversation depends largely on how much you keep it going.
Leaving Elementary School
The end of elementary school marks a major shift in a child's school life. While these teachers don't play the same nurturing role as preschool teachers, they still share a close relationship with children as the primary teacher. Leaving elementary school means moving forward into a world of less personal teacher-student relationships. Children this age are aware of this shift, which can be exciting and terrifying at the same time.
In addition, peer relationships have become more important by this point in a child's life, and some students may go to different middle schools during the transition. Help children think about the most important people from their elementary years and be available to talk about the benefits and worries related to moving on.
Leaving Middle School
The leave-taking for an older child who is moving on to high school has a different meaning. While relationships with teachers in middle school are less personal, there are typically certain teachers who make an impression or are especially memorable. Provide teens this age with space to reflect on what they will miss about middle school and help them feel comfortable with a range of mixed emotions.
The end of each school year is a unique experience for each child. You can support a meaningful goodbye for a child of any age by keeping conversations about his feelings — both positive and negative — open. As the last day of school approaches, provide multiple opportunities for your child to share and reflect. You may be surprised by what you learn about your child — and her school experiences — when you have the space and time to reflect together.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families.