School holidays are a great time to have fun with the kids and enjoy a break from the regular school/work routine. Unfortunately the reality of heading back to work or school comes around much too soon.
Adapting to a school routine, coping with a new classroom, different teachers and forming new friendships can result in a degree of anxiety for some children. This anxiety typically subsides once settled back into a routine, although some children require a little longer when adjusting to these changes.
Schools and teachers know the transition can be difficult for some students, and they typically do a good job at helping them feel as comfortable as possible – including hosting orientation days for new students.
There are some other useful strategies that families can consider to help ease the transition back to school:
Tips to help make the ‘back to school’ transition a little easier
1. 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 from the ‘wake up’ time to packing bags in the same way.
- 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. 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 reestablish the bedtime routine at least one week before school starts.
- 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 an easy to follow visual routine chart with pictures to help motivate your child.
2. 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 or visit the school website for a photo of the teacher.
- For new students, tell your child about the teacher’s role 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.
- 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.
- 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.
3. 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 and practice the ideas that you have discussed, so your child will become more empowered.
- 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.
4. 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. 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.
5. Seek professional help
Professional support and advice from a psychologist may 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.
- Other allied health professionals can also help, such as child occupational therapists and speech pathologists.
- 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 www.psychology.org.au/FindaPsychologist.
6. Develop your child’s independence
- This can be a tricky thing to do. When we see our kids growing up in front of our eyes, we are motivated to keep them close and dependent on us as parents. Unfortunately, the reality is that parents cannot attend the school day with their child. Therefore, children must learn to become self-sufficient and confident to manage the challenges that come their way.
- There are many aspects of schooling life in which children do not have control. They are often told where to sit, when to speak, what to wear, and what subjects to learn. For some children, this may lead to the experience of anxiety, discomfort and reduced motivation. Within reason, allow your kids to have some control over their education and process of attending school. This can be simply achieved by:
- Allowing them to choose their own utensils such as their school bag (or keyring for bags that are part of an established school uniform), or pencil case.
- Take them with you to try on shoes and listen to them if they tell you that a certain pair is more comfortable than another. Give them the responsibility of polishing their shoes once a week.
- Depending on the age and developmental level of your child, consider purchasing them a watch so that they can keep track of the day. Allow them opportunities to make plans of when and where to meet you at school pick up.
- For older children who may walk to and from school, arrange for them to have a key to the house so that they may have the responsibility and independence to let themselves in at home. Allow them to pick out the pattern on the key to signify the importance of the responsibility.
Is your child getting anxious about heading back to school?
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