The new school year is upon us, and thousands of children will be starting school for the first time or entering a new year-level or a new school. Starting school is an exciting time for children and their parents. But it can also be a time of stress because change and challenge are involved. There is a lot for them to get used to!
It is important to remember that everyone feels a bit nervous on the first day of school (parents as well as children), and some will adapt more easily than others. We are all different! The nerves will most likely soon settle, so the key is to think positively, be prepared and allow some time to adjust. There are many strategies to assist settling into the new school year.
Here I talk about managing separation anxiety, and also strategies to assist everyone in relation to children starting or returning to school.
A child realizes mum or dad are leaving and begins to cry and cling to them. The parents and the child feel distressed. This is a common scenario in the first week of school, and occurs because of separation anxiety, which can last from infancy through to the primary school years. Some separation anxiety is mild and can be managed through distraction and reassurance. Some is more persisting and distressing, and assistance from professionals might be needed.
The following strategies can help ease separation anxiety:
- Practice – read stories about starting school, visit the school
- Be calm and consistent in your approach, talk positively about school
- Keep your facial expressions relaxed
- Let your child know that it is normal to have some nervousness, and that the butterflies will soon settle – they will be helped by taking some medium breaths
- Use the same behaviours or words when you leave each time
- Leave the child with the teacher, or settle them into an enjoyable activity before leaving
- Show confidence in the child and reassure them you will be back
- Return when you say you will
- Talk about how to make friends, what to expect in relation to other children
- Avoid criticism, building confidence and self-esteem
- Give them time in the evening, or letting the child mind something of yours when you leave.
If you need further assistance, talk to your GP or Child and Youth Health.
For most children starting school, the nerves will soon settle. The key to settling into the new school year is to think positively, be prepared and allow some time to adjust.
Positive strategies for adapting to school
There are many strategies to assist settling into the new school year and to have a positive experience.
1. Be positive
Focus on the positive things about going back to school, such as seeing old friends, making new one, getting the new school stationary or uniforms and getting involved in sports and other activities.
2. Involve and prepare your child
Preparing for school can be a fun time doing things together, eg. shopping for the uniform, lunch box etc. Teach them to do things independently eg. dressing.
3. Be more available
In the first week, it is useful for parents to be more available for school drop-offs and settling in the classroom, as well as for pick-ups and chatting (and for covering / labeling books!). Otherwise, make yourself more available during the evening to talk with your child. Focus on the good things that happened at school, or help them make sense of things that worried them.
Communicate with children about positive experiences and any worries e.g. about making friends or liking their teacher. Buddy systems arranged by schools for new students can assist.
5. Establish routines
Establish the school-night routine in the weeks before school starts, such as getting to bed at a reasonable time.
6. Get yourself organized before school starts
Make sure all the necessary supplies (e.g. backpack, uniform, stationary…) are obtained in good time for school; and any forms (e.g. contact or medical details) are filled out.
7. Sort arrangements
Work out transportation to and from school, and after-school arrangements. Practice them eg. going along the route that will be used to get to school. Show them where you will pick them up. Go through safety issues.
8. Eat well, sleep well.
Make sure children have a healthy breakfast and lunch to manage the school day. Make sure they get enough rest as they will be tired when school starts.
9. Get the kids to be organized and encourage independence
Encourage children to be organized and set out what they need the night before school, pack their bags etc.
10. Write things down, use a planner
Write down useful information such as locker combinations, what time classes and lunch start and end, teacher’s names etc. Use a wall calendar or planner to record when assignments are due, sport and other practices are held; and put any information from the school in a file or up on a pin-up board e.g. checklists of what is needed uniform-wise for different activities/on different days.