Even to the student coming back to the same school, every year is different. If you have moved countries or your child has moved schools, he or she is facing a seriously daunting new situation. Certainly change is tough but how parents manage this situation can make the difference to whether the new academic year starts well or not for children.
You drop your daughter or son off at school, hug and kiss them and send them off to have a great time while you breathe a sigh of relief over a cup of coffee. It’s the first day of school and frankly, if you are a young person who actually has to go to school, it can be somewhat overwhelming.
Take a moment to survey the scene from your little person’s head. No, not just the fancy facilities that the school fees pay for and the lovely staff there to educate and empower your child, but also the noise: the rules, the tests, the bullies, the challenges and all that is new. Even to the student coming back to the same school, every year is different. If you have moved countries or your child has moved schools, he or she is facing a seriously daunting new situation. Certainly change is tough but how parents manage this situation can make the difference to whether the new academic year starts well or not for children.
Back-To-School: Common Behavioural Responses in Children
- Mixed feelings about school
- Confusion about rules and expectations
- Worry or anxiety about changes
- Clinginess to parents or caregivers, especially in younger children
- Strong likes or dislikes about teachers and/or classmates
- Strong likes and dislikes for new subjects
- Difficulty adapting to changes in routine
- Resistance to work or lack of endurance for applying mental effort, especially after a long break
- Excessive sleepiness and fatigue
Ten Tips to Ease Children Back to School
- Be organized – ensure that school bags, work and other materials have a designated place and that your child knows where things go. Provide your child with a worktable and chair in a place without distraction to do his/her schoolwork. Order or plan school lunches and snacks at the start of the week or month to reduce morning stress.
- Ensure that your child has healthy, nutritious and balanced meals that provide energy and adequate sleep. A hungry, tired or sleepy child is not likely to be a good learner.
- Follow simple set routines for daily chores, play and work. Knowing when to wake up, eat, go out to play or do homework minimizes distress and resistance in most children. Also, it is easier for them to do something when they form a habit and you can avoid daily battles!
- Spend a few minutes talking to your child about his/her day. Sharing about your day will encourage them to do the same and if you have to ask questions, make them open-ended so that your child doesn’t feel interviewed! Talking and sharing about the day can easily become a daily feature and help you to quickly identify problems.
- Be engaged in your child’s learning. Regularly read the weekly newsletters or information sheets that come home via backpack or emails.
- Get to know the teacher(s). Introduce yourself to your child’s teacher and help the teacher understand your child, especially if your child has specific learning needs or other challenges. Proactively ask for feedback on how your child is doing and don’t wait until the end-of-term report!
- Get to know your child’s peers and friends. Introduce yourself to other families and be proactive in arranging playdates outside of school. Having more social interactions can boost your child’s social skills and make them anticipate fun at school.
- Encourage your child to participate in school activities, not just learning but after school sport and leisure activities and clubs. This is a great way for them to learn myriad new skills and connect with their peers.
- Be a role model. Demonstrate enthusiasm for school and learning. All homework need not be a boring chore. Some of it can even be a fun time where your child teaches you something he/she learnt at school.
- Be positive. Being happy takes effort. Look for happy moments and positive experiences in your child’s day and reflect it back to them so they learn to appreciate the same.
Sometimes a child’s reluctance and negativity can be more than just the usual back-to-school worries. Starting a new school, family disruptions, relocation, a parent starting work after a break, bullying at school as well as transitions such as moving to middle or high school can trigger anxiety. In some persons, anxiety can be a symptom of a disorder such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety or Separation Anxiety. Anxiety can seriously impact not only a child’s learning and academic achievement but also self-esteem and confidence. Physical symptoms such as headaches, tummyaches and diarrhea or behavioural symptoms such as refusal to go to school, panic attacks, clinging to parents, defiance and tantrums may indicate anxiety that needs attention.
Thankfully, anxiety is highly treatable and children do benefit from psychological treatment. The best thing that a parent can do is get speedy and professional help for an anxious child from a qualified mental health professional. In the meantime, remember that missing school could make anxiety worse instead of alleviating it and your child is generally better off attending school while developing coping strategies for dealing with anxiety. Talk to your child about his or her feelings as this can help clarify their feelings and worries and reduce the magnitude of their concerns. Gently encourage your child to face worries and feared situations gradually and focus on building self-confidence through positive interactions and activities.
Contact our psychologist, Shrimathi Swaminathan if you have questions or need more information.