Preparing for the new school year
by Tanushree Joshi
Starting a new school year is a big change for children of all ages. Most children often experience a mixture of excitement, fear anxiety, anticipation and much more. At this time of year, child psychologists are often asked by parents, what can they do to support their children with this transition. The main thing to remember is that any change is difficult for children (and for adults) so we need to try and make this change more gradual and less scary. There are many helpful strategies you can implement to help your child comfortably transition to school.
Take advantage of any orientation opportunities - If you child's school has an orientation opportunity, especially in the younger grades, make use of this. This can be an opportunity for you child to ask questions, meet peers and familiarise themselves with the school environment.
Make some trips to the school ground - Take some trips to the school before the first day, allow your child look around, play in the playground or even walk throughout the corridors. The more exposure your child gets to the new school setting, the more comfortable they will feel on there first day.
Introduce them to their teacher - If it is possible try to introduce your child to their teacher beforehand. Most teachers are happy to take a few minutes to meet a new student and make him/her feel comfortable. This will help your child build connection with their teacher and help them settle into the school year.
Organise play dates with other children before the first day of school - Over the school holiday period take the opportunity to strengthen your child's relationships with peer in his/her class. When children have other familiar children to play with, this can help make adjusting to the social aspects of school easier.
Create a structured day and night routine - Setting up morning and night time routines will help your child know what to expect. Getting used to new sleep and wake up times can be very difficult. However, by doing this a few weeks before school starts provided will allow them to gradually change their routine to be prepared for the first of school. The structure and familiarity will hopefully make the transition to school a bit easier. It is important to recognise the importance of sleep structure, adequate sleep is essential to good behaviour and concentration within the classroom setting. The early days of school can also be exhausting, so good sleep habits will only help.
Go shopping together to prepare for the big day - Making a special trip to the store to pick school supplies can help build up some excitement around the return to school. Let your child pick out his/her own crayons, pencils or notebooks and put them in a special spot for the big day.
Practice saying goodbye - For many children, the biggest challenge will be saying goodbye to you. Try creating opportunities to practice the goodbye process, such as dropping them off for a play date or leaving them with their grandparents for a few hours. Some children really benefit from a parting ritual. This goodbye ritual should be something you can practice beforehand and that is short and sweet (eg: a bear hug and a special hand shake). If you are already aware that separation will be a big hurdle, then try to implement some extra preparation, read some books or social stories to help your child understand that things will be ok when you are not around.
Teach your child self-calming strategies - Children need to know that it is ok to have difficult moments in school. It is important that we teach children the skills to calm themselves appropriately when they are upset and you aren’t around to help them. Use age-appropriate self soothing activities, such as cuddling a soft toy, squeezing a stress ball, having a drink of water or learning to wipe their own eyes with a tissue. It’s can also be a good idea to discuss your child’s preferred calming activities with the new teacher.
Be patient over the first few weeks - It will usually take a few weeks before your child adjusts to the change of a new school schedule. Some children might be tired after school for the first few weeks, whereas others may still have the energy for after-school activities. It is important to be mindful that they are slowly readjusting to the change, so be patient and provide them with some extra leniency.
And the final and probably most important rule is to be excited and enthusiastic about your child starting school.
If your child's anxiety or distress around school continues, please feel free to get in touch for some additional support.