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How to help children go back to school

31 August 2019

Many children and parents are feeling anxiety over the approach of a new school year. Anxious feelings are normal and expected during times of transition or change. This is especially true for children and teens going back to school, or for children starting reception. This transition can be stressful and disruptive for the entire family. Prior to the first day of school, your anxious child may cling, cry, have temper tantrums, complain of headaches or stomach pains, withdraw, and become sullen or irritable.

Your role as a parent or carer is to stay as calm as possible, but also encourage sharing feelings, emotions and worries related to school. Your calmness and confidence will send a message to your child that you have trust in the school and also your child. At this stage your child needs a lot of nurturing, feeling safe and contained with his or her feelings.

Ask your child what is making them worried; tell your child that it is normal to have concerns. Before and during the first few weeks of school set up a regular time and place to talk. Some children feel most comfortable in a private space with your undivided attention (such as right before bed, or during mealtime). Some children show their stress of starting school in their play, they may be able re-enact school situations in their play. Teens often welcome some sort of distraction to cut the intensity of their worries and feelings (such as driving in the car, or taking a walk).

Ask your child what makes him or her excited about the school and you can list it in a form of a poster. On the other side you can write worries and maybe some of the worries won’t be relevant shortly so you can cross them out. For children starting reception, separation anxiety is often the biggest issue and it is good to start preparation as early as 3-4 weeks before first week of school. They are often worried that parents or carers are away, it is good to reassure them that you keep on thinking about him or her, keeping him or her in your mind.

It’s a good idea to visit the school before the first day. For kids who are going to be first-timers for reception, year 1, middle school or even high school, this can help them feel more comfortable with the new place and get a better idea of where to go once they’re there. Even for returning students, it doesn’t hurt to know where the classroom is, say hello to whatever staff is there getting ready and start getting excited about going back.

Two to three weeks before first days of school, begin going to bed and getting up earlier and try to eat on a more regular schedule as well. This advice isn’t just for little kids; teens and adults need quality sleep for proper functioning as well and getting your schedule straight now will help prevent insomnia or sleep deprivation when school starts. Good rest can help your child better manage stress on the first day.

For young children having a calendar with days to cross out really helps in preparation for school. You can mark there also visit to school before first day or going on school shopping or play dates with school friends – as a way to helping your child to settle back. Having a friend from his or her new class it is a good way of refreshing friendships especially if the child hasn’t been in touch with friends over the summer break. For reception and primary school children it is always good to support transition with stories. Look out for a next post as I will concentrate on going to school literature for children.

Anna Jurek

Photo courtesy of frank mckenna on Unsplash