End-of-school-year behaviour can be a tricky one to manage. The combination of sunny weather, the heat, impending holidays, children outgrowing their year group/education level, anticipation and anxiety surrounding what comes next, and general changes to routine, are all contributing factors. Now imagine being in a classroom with 20-30+ other children, all going through a similar thing.
It's well known that classroom behaviour nosedives towards the end of the school year/summer term. And, as all parents know, nothing happens at school, without a knock-on effect at home.
You might notice that your child is unusually tearful, anxious or irritable; perhaps they are less focussed on homework, disinterested in their hobbies, unbribable (the horror), etc. It's completely natural for children to become more distracted and disengaged at the end of term - their minds are on other things and the sunshine isn't helping.
As a general practice, encourage children to keep a journal (or get them into the habit of drawing something good, something bad, something ugly), and ask their teacher or primary educator/secondary or co-parent for regular updates.
Here's how to help your child settle and calm in the last few weeks of term:
Make time and space for every emotion. Yes, I know it sounds preachy and wishy-washy but hear me out. Most of us know by now that there's something going on behind every behaviour - which only serves to make it harder to parent, right? We are guilt-ridden detectives and none of us signed up for that when we had kids, did we?
Child psychologists and experts agree that challenging behaviour, in young children, often stems from them not being able to verbalise their needs. The same can be said for older children, as their emotional and social needs change quicker than their understanding can keep up with. Couple this with a child's desire for power and control - thoughts and behaviours that are typically a consequence of anxiety, and can be linked to change - as well as all the regular kid and life stuff - and you've suddenly got a lot of big feelings, in lots of little humans.
Whether your child is PNT (predominant neuro-type) or Non-PNT (non-predominant neurotype), may also impact how they process and verbalise these emotions.
By giving your child the space and time to work through these feelings in their own way, you're not ignoring them or pushing them away - you're teaching them healthy and productive processing tools. In practice, this might look like earlier nights or later bedtimes - depending on your child, waking them up a little earlier than usual so they don't need to rush before school, - or letting them have a big weekend lie-in, a detour to the park on the way to school in the morning, taking a snack to afternoon pick-up, easing their routine a bit, planning quiet time, providing the right amount of physical activity to meet their needs - this could be more, or less, depending on the individual.
Switching to a more child-led needs-based routine and relaxing your expectations a little (in other words, if they are bouncing off the walls - let them...but maybe take them to a soft play to do it), can make a huge difference to children who are struggling to adjust and manage their emotions. This will also lower the household temperature if you've been finding yourselves at boiling point by 7 pm every single bloody night.
Ask, don't assume. As parents (and humans), we often bring so much of our own lived experience into the room with us when we're trying to help our children. You can see they are struggling, so you try to fix the problem - as you see it. How many of us have done this? I know I have! I've asked leading questions, filled in the blanks for myself, got totally the wrong end of the stick and made things worse. Round of applause for anyone else who has done this too. At least we tried. And now we get to demonstrate another key skill to our children - apologising and learning from our mistakes. Rather than panic react, take a breath, remind your child that you're there for them whenever they want or need to talk, then back off for a while and wait until they are in a calm enough place to talk.
Don't get sucked into the drama. I find this one so hard that I almost didn't include it as it made me feel like a fraud. So, full disclosure, if you manage to achieve this, let me know how. If my kids are kicking off, particularly now they are older and having more teen/grown-up tantrums or stress sessions, I start off very calm and relaxed (just like the chilled mum I occasionally trick myself into thinking I am), and gradually progress into red-faced shouty maniac Mum. According to the experts (and of course, I know they are right and my methods are not healthy...or likely to win me any parenting awards, any time soon), what I should be doing, consistently (and that there's the killer, isn't it?), is taking a breath, calmly responding to my child in a gentle and non-judgemental manner, and then backing off and behaving just as I would were they not apoplectic with rage over losing an online game, being called downstairs for dinner, or asked to get their shoes on. Everything I've read, suggests I become the kind observer - without succumbing to the urge to reenact an Eastenders scene. Working on it.
Quality time for connection. Make this as ad-hoc or scheduled as your parenting style allows, and your child needs. Dedicate half an hour to playing and chatting with your child every single day. Including school days. Leave your phone in another room and make sure all of your attention is on your child. If you have more than one child, do it for and with all of them. This is why I'm only suggesting you earmark 30 minutes! Just make sure it's proper, uninterrupted 1-1, and that it happens every day of the week - without fail. I can't tell you what a difference this makes. Well, I can have a go. It is HUGE. Your child will relax, the connection between them and you will flourish, and - more often than not - they'll open up to you about what's upsetting them - or, and this applies particularly to pre-teens and teens, they will feel better equipped to process their big emotions independently. Don't let this bit hurt your feelings by the way - as parents, we want to give our children the confidence and emotional stability to do precisely this. Always, always, always in the knowledge that you're there for them whenever they need you.
Ask for help. If you or your child are not coping and you feel like emotions and behaviours are markedly changed, unusual or unsafe, call your GP immediately. There will always be an out-of-hours emergency number and whoever you speak to will be able to refer you to the right support services for you and your family. If you're in the UK, you can also call Family Action on 0808 802 6666, text on 07537 404 282, or email email@example.com (Monday-Friday 9 am-9 pm). Or Text FAMILYACTION to 85258 - their crisis messenger text service provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK and is delivered in partnership with Shout.