Time to say goodbye - changing from one year to another
Change and loss share similar characteristics in relation to how they makes us feel. Arguably harder to manage when it’s unexpected, these emotions can be hard to verbalise and often feel overwhelming.
For many young people, this time of year can be particularly difficult, whether this be because they are finishing at a school, leaving a beloved teacher, anticipating having a stricter new teacher or moving to a new environment entirely. All of these can be triggers to uncertainty and difficult and painful emotions.
As adults, we face similar emotions, especially when colleagues leave, we start new roles or prepare to retire! The likelihood is that as adults, we also have the experience of losing friends and family members due to old age, illness or accident. Whilst we may have better coping strategies or the literacy to explain this, it doesn’t make it any easier to experience.
This month we’re focusing on how to support young people moving from one setting to another, whether this be within school (e.g. moving up a year group), to a new setting (e.g. Yr 6/7 or Yr11/12) or leaving formative education entirely (18+).
If you do a quick google search of quote regarding change, you get an eclectic mix of attitudes, approaches and fortune cookie wisdom.
“Change is not pleasant, but change is constant. Only when we change and grow, we’ll see a world we never know.”
From the Wisdom of the Orange Woodpecker
“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle.”
Martin Luther King
“A change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.”
“If you want to change the world, change yourself.”
There are two constants across the quotes – firstly, there is a certain inevitability about change. Regardless of our own personal desires, change is going to happen. The second constant is the encouragement to ‘be the change we want to see” – our role in the change scenario. It’s almost impossible to reference change without falling into some form of Clintons Card cliché. And yet, just because it’s a cliché, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t true. Change is something that happens and we have a decision to make – are we part of the change or do we allow change to be dictated to us?
What is challenging for young people is that in many cases, they have limited control of what these changes are going to be – they don’t determine their next form tutor, their next school (whilst they can visit, the decision is ultimately made by the county council) or class teacher. They are complete passengers in what is happening and this in turn can create a deeper sense of unfairness or worry.
For those leaving the local education environment it can be even more daunting as they may be heading to college in another town, or University in another city!!
So how do we help people manage change? When I was a teenager, one of the great joys was the lightbulb joke – Things like
“How many jazz musicians does it take to change a lightbulb? A-one, A-two, a-one, two, three, four!’
“How many mystery writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Two, one to unscrew it, and the other to give it an unexpected twist at the end”
“How many Anglicans does it take to change a lightbulb? CHANGE?!?!”
It seems like a weird tangent, but a simply lightbulb joke holds a truth about saying goodbye and/or experiencing change.
“How many counselling patients does it take to change a light bulb? Just one, but they really need to want to change”.
The change attitude must come from them – our role is to support them through this. Below are some tips to help young people cope with and build resilience in the face of change.
Failure is an option:
When was the last time you tried something new and were perfect at it immediately? You arrive at the ice rink giving it the old ‘Torvill and Dean’ schtick and proceed to spend the next 30 minutes tottering around the ice whilst holding onto a penguin shaped balance toy and occasionally squealing in pain as your backside lands on the ice… again? What about speaking Esperanto like a native? Or cooking the perfect souffle? All these things take practice, failure and a willingness to keep going – tenacity!
If you aren’t willing to fail, you’ll never have the opportunity to succeed, but we live in a world and society where failure isn’t seen as a positive. By changing and encouraging a growth narrative around trying, people tend to change and grow as they try… obvs!
Trust, Respect and Independence:
This is hard… in my house, we tend to limit options simply because we want to get something done… would you like fishfingers or chicken dippers for tea? Apple juice or orange squash… less choice means a greater chance of not waiting for three hours whilst they make a decision, and yet, more often than not, given a little time and space, young people can learn to make effective and healthy decisions. In doing this, they begin to learn how to manage change, because they are part of the process of responding in different circumstances. And what’s more… this isn’t just a skill young people should be learning and mastering… we can do it at any age.
How easy is it to slip into a negative habit? Cup of tea… and a biscuit (or three); staying in bed and taking the car, rather than cycling; staying up too late because you can’t miss Love Island, rather than recording it and skipping through the boring parts (which in essence makes it a 2 minute show).
But positive habits are equally accessible, we’re just wired to try to avoid them! Doing homework straight away, hanging school uniform up or leaving phones downstairs overnight are all positive habits to get into, and yet, we’d rather not! By developing healthy habits, we develop the skills and resilience required to face challenges because we are used to working and acting positively – these habits become even more important in the face of change. Negative habits result in negative outcomes… positive habits… I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks.
Eating well… for wellness:
I loved Sesame Street as a kid – the silliness and larger than life characters, all with the singular purpose of teaching children like me about letters, numbers and how we should interact with one another. One of my favourite characters was Oscar the Grouch – a green character who lived in a dustbin and who collected a wide range of seemingly useless and pointless things.
As a parent introducing Sesame Street to my kids (read Elmo and Cookie Monster as their favourites!) it struck me that part of Oscar’s grouchiness was that he was constantly being surrounded by rubbish. The same is true of our bodies. If we spend all the time, putting rubbish into our systems (e.g. what we eat), then we’re only ever going to get rubbish out. Healthier eating creates healthier outputs, especially when it comes to energy, clarity of thought and sleep. Making the unhealthy snack a treat, means it becomes even more of a reward and therefore more enjoyable.
The NHS – God’s Natural Health Service:
There is something about the great outdoors which makes a real difference to people’s wellbeing and mental health. Green spaces, fresh air and being away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, is incredibly positive for people, giving them a natural boost to their immune system.
The other (unexpected bonus) to walking in nature, is that conversation seems to come slightly easier – walking alongside someone facing challenges is almost symbolic. It also makes it a lot easier for them, as they don’t have to make eye contact or face things head on (more symbolism) and the metaphor of journeying together gains added meaning!
Owning or disowning:
It can be very easy for us to take ownership of negative situations, even if we have limited control or responsibility for things. We get into a head space that says, ‘in some way, I must have done something that caused this’. In reality, we often take far more responsibility that we should, especially for those things for which we have no control. Have you ever considered whether life would be different if instead of taking responsibility for absolutely everything, you only own your own stuff?
The flip side to this, is sometimes a young person’s bad habit – not taking ownership of the things they have done! Part of change, is growing and developing this aspect of our personality… AKA maturing!
The moral of this is only carry your own baggage!
Insta-gram… or Insta…ntly forgettable:
I’m sat typing this in my office in Egham. Around me are windows, people I like and a good deal of humour and camaraderie. I’m posting on social media from a good headspace and with positive intent. I’m doing my best to avoid antisocial (media) behaviours and I’m certainly not looking to find others I disagree with who I can cancel at the pressing of a button…
And yet, we live in times where social media and those who use it, can do so for positive, altruistic reasons, or negative, hate filled expression. And in an environment where these two extremes are juxtaposed we know how important it is to take a step back, to find space and air and have a healthy breath of reality.
Maybe if we spent less time living our ‘best life’ and more time living a real one, young people would be more inclined to accept and embrace who they are and the challenges they face?
Change happens… what is most important is our attitude towards this and our approach to uncertainty.
As family, friends, peers or mentors to young people we have a vital role to play in this change narrative. To be a constant presence. We may also be being impacted by this change, but by being present, and consistent, we bring a stability in the face of whatever our young people are facing. It isn’t always easy, we often cop a lot of upset, frustration, or anger, but when that young person looks back after the change has happened, the one thing they’ll remember throughout the whole experience will be the person or people who stood with them.
Maybe that should be Clinton’s Cards next range… ‘Thank you for always being there…’
Next month – August: Moving on Up - the next stage/phase
If you want to hear more or have topics/themes you’d like us to discuss, please don’t hesitate to get in contact at email@example.com