By Tracey-Lee Elliss
Lead Pedagogical Leader
Year in, year out, no matter how long the children have been in care, or if they have been at the same early learning centre with the same children and the same Educators since birth, October to December is always challenging for Educators, children, and families. As Educators we know it, prepare for it as best as we can, and try and develop tools to alleviate what is coming, but it still comes crashing through the door and requires a community to rally together. What am I referring to? End of Year Anxiety and Exhaustion.
Around October each year we typically see an increase of children displaying what is first described as ‘out of character’ behaviours like not wanting to come to ‘school’, crying or holding on tightly at drop offs, retreating into themselves when typically, they are outgoing, or having highly emotional or aggressive outbursts. These are normal responses in children when they don’t have the tools to communicate what they are thinking or feeling. Please be assured that the professionals that are in your child’s room know how to support and guide each child in ways that are respectful, appropriate, and meet their needs.
Imagine being a young child through October. Halloween is being advertised everywhere with decorations, costumes, and an abundance of sweet treats and all of it is at a child’s eye level. Then we move into November and it’s a quick change from promoting Halloween and straight into Christmas – all a similar product but a change in colour and more of it. This direct stimulus is seen throughout the community and media consistently, providing both excitement and stress of varying levels depending on the current family climate.
We then need to include for our older children going for preschool and school orientations. They are going from a place that they feel connected to and seen as the ‘big kids’, to a brand-new space where they are the youngest children. For some children, this becomes highly overwhelming, and they need to know that their safe person is still there – this is where we may see some ‘testing type’ behaviours. For others, there is excitement for new learning opportunities, and they want to be at school NOW! Going back to their early childhood setting just isn’t good enough anymore, even though once they get there, we know they will be totally fine and have a great time.
Having all these stimuli, and change consistently swirling around, and the fact that the reaction between children varies, there is no doubt that we are all exhausted and trying our best to manage each situation and day as it comes.
What we know?
Anxiety in children is normal and it is up to families and other responsible adults in their lives to support them to develop strategies to cope.
When anxiety is combined with fatigue it can manifest as irritability, clinginess, defiance, crying at the drop of a hat, fighting with siblings or full-blown tantrums. Those big feelings that are being masked by a behaviour are what’s matters most so it’s important to make time for rest, connection, and reflection.
Children pick up on the emotions and behaviours of EVERYONE around them. When we get to October, it seems to be all about change and preparing for next year. When significant people in that child’s world are stressed, unwell, unable to regulate their emotions and bodies, the child will respond in the ways they know how.
What can families do?
Acknowledge how your child feels. By validating an emotion and giving children words to ‘name’ what they might be feeling, we provide them with tools to recognise and manage their emotions and enhance their resilience.
Build, strengthen and promote supportive relationships. A strong community for a family fosters opportunities to connect and ‘share the stress’. Just being able to talk to someone who is going through the same things as you can be helpful.
Stick to the routine. By maintaining a good routine at drop off particularly, families set children up for the day. Be honest and explain any changes to pick up, acknowledge that you can see they are sad/worried/etc, and that you will see them later. Please don’t ever ‘sneak out of the room’ as this could add to their anxiety.
Practice self-care. If you are remaining calm and dealing with your stress, children will see this and take note of how manage.
What can quality early learning centres do?
Keep the lines of communication open. Knowing and using the best communication method with each family aims at addressing things early rather than letting them go.
Be there and present for your child. The Educators are professionals and have many strategies and supports at their disposal. They will do EVERYTHING they can think of to bring a sense of calm and security to your child. This is not their first time so please trust that they have the same goals you do.
Include more challenging provocations through October & November to recapture attention. The children are now older and more capable to start exploring new resources or concepts. We have been practicing all these foundation skills, time to put them to the test. For example, working on balance and locomotor movement in a toddler’s age group to include using the monkey bars. Or reactive science projects that preschool aged children can do independently because they have learnt how to be safe and aware of others.
Purposefully and deliberately program plan wellness and wellbeing strategies as a focus, across the December period. While children’s agency and autonomy are embedded across the year, making a choice to solely focus on slowing down, rest and relaxation, grounding techniques, etc, we are supporting children’s need to reconnect with their sense of self.
Each child and family are different, and this should be embraced and celebrated. What works for one, may not always work for another, or immediately after with the same child in a similar situation. Quality early learning services and effective Educators are there for all families and confidently state that if they are worried, they will let you know. If you concerned, perhaps make the time to speak with your child’s Team Leader in the first instance.
We see you, we see your child, and the early childhood education and care sector will continue to provide a learning environment that is created for children where they can grow into who they are and be celebrated.