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Helping Children Navigate Fall Transitions

Lory Britain, PhD

Eliana holds her drawing for her new teacher carefully against her chest. She hesitates for just a minute before stepping through the doorway into her new preschool classroom. Looking both excited and shy, her body language tells a story of "mixed-together" feelings. Her mother encourages her entry, by saying, "This looks really fun!"


Does this feel familiar? Most likely, this scene and similar ones are repeated throughout the country as children as fall ushers in new experiences for young children.

As a first time preschool teacher over 35 years ago, I planned the children's transition from summer to school with sensitivity. I visited each child at home, listening carefully to what they wanted to show me and described their classroom. I asked each of them to make a picture to bring to their individual visit to the classroom, assuring each child that we would put their picture up on their own cubby. All this was done to help ease the transition to their first day of school in a new classroom.


Fast forward, 25 years later. One day, I called my then eight-year old granddaughter, Momo. "Grandma, I'm Smad", she informed me. "Smad"? I asked. "Grandma, I am so sad that my parents wont let me do what I want AND I am so very mad at them!"

Momo's honest disclosure jolted my early childhood heart and mind into deeper ways of understanding children's emotional life. I reflected on ways to authentically support their "mixed together" feelings. After all, don't adults often have ambivalent or "mixed-together" feelings? I set about to encourage children to share their complex feelings and to help adults recognize that a "mixed-together" framework enriches our understanding and support of children.


The list is endless of new experiences in the fall that children might be faced with. My other granddaughter loves new shoes, but is sometimes simultaneously upset about giving up her precious, old shoes she has outgrown. Is she both attached to sameness AND open to change? Giving up that cherished pink tutu with tight elastic in place of a new red one might or might not work! And what about that first play date with a new friend? Nervous AND Excited? Or how about those new snacks at school that might be yummy but aren't the old cheese and cracker standby? Adventuresome AND Hesitant? The list is endless and although these experiences might appear small at first glance, helping children navigate their possible emotions yields deeper results.


Here are a few activities to get your teacher "creative juices" flowing.

Newsletter to parents: Consistency between home and school is a powerful tool to validate children's emotional life. In your "greeting" newsletter, help parents understand that their child might be both excited and nervous at the same time. Encourage parents to validate all their children's feelings and to understand that when children are struggling with copings skills, unrecognized "mixed" together emotions might be present.

Emergent Discussions: Watch carefully for each child's body language and focus on considering both excitement and possible trepidation. Have charts and pictures side by side that show multiple emotions so you can help children express possible "mixed-together" feelings.

Children's Picture Books: Use books to touch children's hearts and help them with their challenges. Whether using books that directly deal with emotions or stories that parallel children's experiences, be sure to point out that children can have more than one feeling at once. Select different books with contrasting emotions to encourage discussions about "mixed-together" feelings.

Many Feelings Glove: Have a "puppet of many feelings" handy made out of a cloth glove with different feelings faces drawn of each finger. Help children express more than one feeling at once. Encourage them to point out all their feelings without having to choose one feeling over the other.

Make up Words: Older preschool children will delight in guessing the meaning of made-up words such as "sca-cited" or "braverous". Children can make up their own mixed together words. Incorporate these words into traditional songs about emotions.


Once your begin applying this "mixed together" emotions framework, you will see that you are giving children lifelong tools to express their feelings in a deep and authentic way. Helping children identify all their feelings can bring an emotional equilibrium. And to quote my children's picture book, I'm Happy-Sad Today, "When I'm older, sometimes I'll still have different feelings mixed together inside of me. And that's okay!"

Lory Britain PhD. has over 40 years of experience supporting children and families in Oregon and around the world and authoring children's healing and helping picture books. Here latest book is "I'M HAPPY SAD TODAY: Making Sense of Mixed Together Feelings

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