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Help Your Child Prepare For School

School holidays are a great time to spend time with the kids and have some fun together. Unfortunately the reality of heading back to work or school comes back around much too soon. Over the holidays some routines may slip and transitioning back to school may become challenging or worrying for some children (and even for some parents). Back to school signals a time of transition for any child: adapting to the school routine all over again, coping with a new classroom, different teachers and forming new friendships.

Kids often take a week or two to settle back into their school routine. This is understandable given that they have had weeks of freedom and fun. Nonetheless, as with most children, some children experience a degree of anxiety when returning or indeed starting at school. While this anxiety typically subsides once settled back into the school routine, some children require a little longer when adjusting to these changes.

Schools and teachers know all too well that some students may feel nervous, and they typically do a good job at helping their new students (or returning students) feel as comfortable as possible. Most schools do this by holding an orientation day for new students. Parents often report that this is a good opportunity for them and their child attend an orientation and tour the school grounds and classrooms before the first day of school. Breaking the ice early on is one of the ways to calm your child’s fears and familiarise themselves with their school environment. It’s also a great opportunity for your child to meet peers with whom they will share a classroom so they feel more comfortable on their first day. While this is often a good start, there are some other useful strategies that families can consider to help ease the transition back to school.

  • Develop a consistent morning and evening routine in the lead up to the new school year
    • Ease your children back into the school routine gradually. It is often more beneficial to start putting a new routine into place in the week or two leading up to school’s return. By establishing a consistent morning routine your children will come to know what to expect before school returns.
    • Whether you are going out for the day or just spending the day at home, keep practicing the same routine. Wake up at the same time, have breakfast, get dressed, make lunches and pack bags in the same order each day. Where possible, have lunch at the same time that your children typically would when at school.
    • Start to gradually increase the structure of your routine over the final weeks of the school holidays. It is hard for some children to fall straight back into a highly structured environment, even more so following a holiday period where they may have had more freedom and choice. Setting an activity schedule for the day may help your child adjust to the structure of the school environment.
    • Evening routines are just as important as those that occur in the mornings so it’s important to re-establish the bedtime routine at least one week before school starts. Go through the nightly rituals: free time, dinner, shower, brush teeth, reading and bedtime. This will help your kids to get the right amount of rest when school starts and develop regular sleep patterns to alleviate fatigue.
    • Routines are easier to follow if they are presented in a visual way. It may be hard to expect your children to remember every step of their routine off the top of their head. Create a visual routine chart with pictures to help motivate your child and ensure that it is simple and easy to follow.
  • Familiarise your child with their teacher, classroom and school.
    • Where possible, familiarise your child with their teacher, classroom and school before school returns/commences. Some schools do this in the final term of the year by allowing students to have a meet and greet with their teacher for the following year. If this is not available to your child, look on the school website for a photo of the teacher or request a photo so that your child knows who to look for on their first day.
    • For new students, tell your child about the teacher’s role and how they can help everyone who is in the class. Remind your child of classroom etiquette, such as putting up your hand if you want to get the teacher’s attention.
    • Show your child around their new school and where their new classroom will be. If it is not possible for your child to see their school first hand, then familiarising them with pictures of the school is the next best option. If possible, download a map of the school grounds and show it your child. Show them where to find their classroom, pick up zone and play areas.
    • While you are still on holidays, consider driving past the school to show your child where it is and what it looks like. This may be particularly beneficial if your child is attending that school for the first time. Where possible, drive through the drop off zone and rehearse the drop off procedure with your child.
    • Try on the school uniform. This is more important for new students as opposed to returning students. Show them what they will look like – more often than not new students are highly motivated to wear a uniform for the first time. Allow your child the opportunity to get used to the look and the uniform feels. If necessary, you may even consider having a practice at putting the uniform on in the mornings to assist with the transition into a new morning routine.
    • Prepare your child for the subjects that may be taking throughout the year. Obtain the school supply list and purchase all text books and writing materials prior to the commencement of the school year. Allow your child to choose their contact paper, favourite coloured pens or notebook in order to increase their motivation towards the return of school. Having the right tools will make your child feel more prepared.
  • Help your children to familiarise themselves with their classmates.
    • Most schools release a class list sometime prior to the recommencement of school. From this list identify core friends who may be in the same class as your child. Where possible, schedule play dates before the return of school to help refresh relationships with peers.
    • Play dates are also a great opportunity to notice if your child has any problems interacting socially, such as being too bossy or too shy, so you can identify any problems and work with them on solutions.
    • Encourage your child’s curiosity for socialising and learning. Invite your child’s new friends to your home to play or work together on an assignment. Don’t allow your child to take car rides or go home with new friends until you’ve met their parents.
    • Remember that it is normal for children to take time to find friends and get along with others. There are often several different personalities within a classroom at any one time, so social difficulties are bound to occur from time to time. Try to avoid the temptation of jumping in straight away to solve the problem for your child. Instead, try spending time discussing ways to solve such problems with your child. By practicing the ideas that you have discussed, your child will become more empowered and confident to resolve personal challenges with greater independence.
    • A great way for your child to meet new friends is by joining an extra-curricular activity that may be of interest to your child, such as a team sport. This will help your child form new friendship and encourage your child to mix with others outside of school.
    • Review school policies and procedures for bullying. Rehearse and discuss ways in which your child can cope with bullying while they are at school. Emphasise the importance of asking the bully to stop, walking away, and telling a teacher, before considering further strategies if required.

 

  • Reducing ‘back to school anxiety’
    • The first step in reducing the impact of back to school anxiety is to ensure your child is well prepared. Following some of the tips listed above may help to achieve this. However, if your child’s anxiety persists, then consider using some of these helpful tips.
      • Identify what your child is specifically anxious or worried about and invite your child to discuss these concerns with you and/or their teacher.
      • Prevent avoidance. The successful completion of activities that caused anxiety in the first place will promote self-confidence and reduces anxious symptoms for your child.
      • Be empathetic with your child. Make an effort to try and truly understand your child’s anxiety. Allow them to feel as though they have been heard and that you understand their experience.
      • Model non-anxious behaviour. Children often look to their parents for guidance. Display calm and positive behaviours to tell your children that they do not need to feel anxious and that their environment is safe. This can be particularly difficult amongst the rush of getting out the door in time.
      • Be patient. Try to be as consistent and patient as possible to reinforce the message to your child that their world is a safe place. Overcoming any form of anxiety can take time.
  • Seek professional help
    • Professional support and advice may help your child to develop their confidence in returning to school.
    • Psychologists often support children who experience difficulty during their transition into or back to school in a number of ways.
    • Psychologists are trained in supporting families to cope with life adjustments that naturally occur, such as starting at school. Psychologists provide education to children and parents about anxiety and ways in which to overcome it. This may include general school anxiety or more specific anxieties such as exam anxiety or social anxiety. In addition, psychologists can provide support by developing social skills for children, including ways in which to manage being bullied. Psychologists may also help families to establish family routines and behaviour management strategies to assist with school transitions.
    • Other allied health professionals such as child occupational therapists and speech pathologists may also offer additional supports for children who are starting or returning to school. These professions may provide support if your child experiences difficulty with handwriting or holding their pencil correctly, or if your child experiences delays with their expression and understanding of speech and language.
    • If you feel that your child may benefit from support from one or more of these professions, speak to your school, General Practitioner, or access psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist.