The thought of a new school term can bring on exhilaration and dread (and we don’t just mean for the kids!). Some children look forward to returning to a routine and reconnecting with their classmates, whereas others feel sad that their days no longer involve impromptu naps and might need more TLC through the inevitable transition.
“Mental preparation is so important. Successfully navigating the shift helps your child to build healthy self-respect and self-confidence, and this in turn helps to facilitate their learning experiences and academic performance,” explains Kristi Mackintosh, a psychotherapist at Promises Healthcare (promises.com.sg). “As a parent, you can minimise the fear of the unknown by being positive about the school experience and providing support and understanding.”
Don’t Avoid Anxiety
Kristi recommends inspiring children to focus on what they know, not on what they don’t know about what lies ahead. “There will always be some things about school life that they can brainstorm and prepare for. Likewise, there will always be things out of their control, but that they can control their response to,” she says.
While kids who are anxious might disagree, the best way to get over jangly nerves is to get more comfortable with the feeling. “Very simply, it’s our response to things that may make us feel scared or stressed out, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. This uncomfortable state can actually help us to respond better,” Kristi continues. “Help your child to understand and manage their big emotions and create a safe place for them to talk. Listen to their concerns before offering advice. Remind them that experiencing some level of anxiety at the beginning of a new school year is natural.”
- Break down exactly which part of school life they’re most anxious about. Is it getting lost; wondering who they’ll sit next to at lunch; or how they’ll manage a new payment system in the canteen?
- Problem-solve for their most fearsome scenarios so they can be confident that they already have skills they can use. Remember, brainstorming is about generating ideas and assisting your child to quash fears themselves, not about fixing the issue for them.
- Remind your child that being brave doesn’t mean a lack of fear or anxiety, but having the courage to try anyway. Remind them of things they’ve successfully accomplished before or what has worked well when they’ve been anxious in the past.
It’s not easy to return to the everyday routine after time off, and this applies to children starting school for the first time, older children who already go to school, and those who are switching schools. Here’s what to keep in mind:
- Most children need 9 -11 hours of sleep, depending on their age. Being well-rested is not only imperative for their general development, but a lack of quality sleep will impact their mood and learning capacity
- Children often stay up later during the holidays, but don’t leave it until the night before school to impose an early bedtime. Hello, pushback!
- A child’s body needs a period to adjust to the new schedule. Alongside an earlier bedtime, include getting to breakfast at a certain time, quiet time like reading a book or working on a craft (which will transition to homework time once school starts), and leisure time
- Teens may also need to adjust to spending evenings back at home. As the new school year inches closer, they need to adapt to earlier nights, earlier mornings and spending more time in the house. There’s likely to be resistance, so allow for rehearsal and repetition
- Work together with your teen to ensure that within the school schedule practice, there’s options for them after breakfast and before supper to go back to bed, meet friends, or do other activities they enjoy
Remind your child that being brave doesn’t mean a lack of fear or anxiety, but having the courage to try anyway
Dealing With No
If ‘school refusal’ is happening, it’s important to act fast. The longer kids avoid school, the harder it will be to get back into the day-to-day. “Check in to see where the dislike may be coming from as it’s likely that something specific happened” suggest Kristi. “Was there an event or social situation that happened before that has caused them to dislike school? Are they feeling pressured academically or struggling with certain subjects? Are they being bullied?”
Try not to tell your child how they’re feeling (you’ll be fine/no you don’t) as this could lead to them repressing their feelings which can spill over as anger in other areas.
Often, a disorder such as separation anxiety, depression, or panic disorder may be involved, and a professional will be able to carry out an evaluation to understand further. Your child may benefit from therapy which can help them to learn how to manage their thoughts and face any roadblocks. A child’s impression of school can last a lifetime and it’s important that they enjoy the process of learning, so it helps to be as proactive as possible.