Reticence and reluctance to go back to school are completely normative for most children. Just as adults relish their days off and vacations, kids too hate to give up their preferred pursuits or control over their time. There are also worries and questions that simmer close to the surface of most children, given the changes that a new school year entail. Will my teacher like me? Will I make a friend or have friends in my class? Will I be able to do the work in this new grade level? If the child is new to the school, the questions intensify about the physical and social-emotional environment and are characterized by themes of safety, security and belonging. The good news is that there are ways to position your child for optimal success!
Here are three areas to consider:
1. Talk to your child.
You may have observed that your child’s worries come in the form of questions. Giving them the information or answers may allay their concerns. In that regard, engaging your child in conversations will assist them to both express their worries and give you the chance to share information that they are wondering about.
Usually children don’t initiate these questions and you’ll need to stimulate the conversation. Don’t immediately ask, “How are you feeling about school?” Begin by asking warm up questions such as, whether the backpack needs to be replaced this year? This leads from discussing the theme of the backpack all the way to their thoughts about the new year and all the lingering questions that give rise to their worries.
Remind your child that most every child has the same questions and worries as they do and, such feelings are okay. You can also be your child’s coach. When a worry is identified, ask them how they managed in the past. You can encourage them and demonstrate confidence in their ability. You can remind them of your support and the likely support of their new teacher to continue to be successful.
2. Develop Routines.
In the time before school commences, develop and use a schedule that approximates the school schedule. This will establish basic mind/body readiness for optimal rest, acclimation to getting up early and getting to bed routines, eating breakfast and following a schedule based on time.
Enlisting your child in a discussion about issues such as, what they might like for breakfast, how long they need to eat etc. will give them an increased sense of autonomy and support a shared engagement with the whole idea of preparing for and going to school. Make creating a visual weekly schedule a child/parent activity together. Your child will love deciding what colors to make the days, where to hang the schedule and being part of the process.
If you and your child’s other parent are living separately and share child custody, the schedule is a great tool to remind and be prepared for the transitions between households. Color coding the days is a great way to maintain consistency and clear communicaton about materials, clothing and daily plans.
In addition, taking a practice walk to school or the bus stop and timing it, can be both bonding and beneficial on the first day back.
3. Be Prepared and Predictable.
When school commences, you and your child will feel more calm and positive if things are prepared in advance. To this point, be proactive in shopping for supplies, food for lunches, arrangements for drop offs and pickups, after school care plans and after school activities.
Children feel more secure and better prepared when things are in place, structured and predictable. Have your child be part of the planning, for these items. They can be involved in making lists, selecting colors, shopping, labeling materials etc. Give an array of acceptable choices and your child will feel more control and involvement. Being prepared means that surprises are minimized. This strengthens the process of returning to school and fosters an anticipation for the first day!
Avoid trying to figure out a plan, buying something new or not being prepared for something that is predictable on the first day of school! Last minute arrangements increase stress on everyone!
There are apt to be bumps in the road. Adapting and discussing the problems that emerged without blaming is a valuable way to problem solve and improve. “What did we learn?” should be the mindset, as it is more effective and puts energies on solutions instead of blaming or shaming.
Giving specific praise for how your child managed something well is also an effective way to stimulate success and build confidence to manage. It can be something small like; waking up, getting dressed on their own, getting through the day, handling a responsibility, eating their lunch etc. Let your child know you see and appreciate their effort, however things went.
The school is also available as a resource. Send your child’s teacher an email if your child is having difficulties and as most children, can’t express it directly to their teacher. Teachers are unbelievably caring and would want to know about this experience. A conversation with the teacher can be positive and powerful! If needs persist, consider contacting the school’s social worker. They are well equipped with proven strategies and resources to positively engage your child with school.
Have a wonderful new school year!
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