The new school year is almost here! While many parents will be rejoicing, there are many whose children are doing it for the first time, starting high school or anxious about returning to class.
Triple P International Country Director Carol Markie-Dadds says many families are feeling the impact of COVID-19 and the cost-of-living crisis, so will have mixed emotions around the year ahead and how to best prepare their children.
“For some, there’s the added challenge of ‘school refusal’, which pre-pandemic, occurred in 1 to 5 per cent of all school children – anecdotally this is now likely to be much higher,” Carols says.
“What we can control as parents and carers, however, is how we respond to life’s challenges. Staying calm in the face of adversity and promoting a sense of optimism in our children will help them respond positively to change, no matter what the future holds.
“The back-to-school period can also see children (and parents/carers) feeling uncertain or anxious around new teachers, friendships groups or even an entirely new environment.
“Families can prepare for this by being armed with simple strategies to help children return to school with confidence and enthusiasm.”
Tips for Prep parents
Preparation is key.
Carol says it is important to look after your child’s physical and mental wellbeing in the lead-up to school starting and establishing routines for sleep, healthy eating and exercise.
Most importantly parents need to ensure children are getting enough sleep and are eating at regular times during the day – as they would at school. Grazing is not an option at school.
When it comes to emotional wellbeing, Carol says parents should find time in the lead-up to school starting to chat to their child about what to expect.
“It’s normal to feel nervous about starting something new because there’s so many unknowns,” she says.
She suggests taking a practice drive or walk to school, and talking about where the classrooms, toilets and break/play areas are.
“Show them as much as you can of what they can expect, so they know more about what’s going on,” Carol says.
She says it’s also important to talk to your child about how to make new friends. Role-playing at home can help with this, as can suggesting more confident children look out for those who might be struggling to find a friend.
Parents should also be aware that week two can be tougher than week one, with many children tired and still trying to build up their ‘learning stamina’.
“Often in week two you’ll get tears,” she says.
“They’re tired and exhausted, which is completely normal.”
Things for parents to avoid:
- Not talking enough about what to expect in the lead-up to school starting.
- Not being organised and rushing at the last minute.
- Panicking and being overwhelmed – which flows on to their children
On the day:
- Speak to your child about what will happen on the first day and how long you will stay for.
- Explain that you will help them settle in before you leave, but you will be waiting for them at the end of the day.
- Make sure you follow through, don’t drag it out, speak positively about the day and save the tears for when you get back to the car or get home.
- Avoid saying ‘don’t worry or don’t be scared’ because this may prompt them to do the opposite.
Tips for first-time high school parents
Carol says establishing routines for good sleep, healthy eating and exercise are just as important for older children and parents need to involve their children in the discussion.
They also need to speak with their children about rules for electronic devices and how they fit into the routine.
The more children are involved in establishing these rules of engagement, the more likely they are to co-operate.
This should include where the devices are kept at bedtime, when they can be accessed in the morning and during the day. Access to a device could be reward for getting up and ready on time in the morning.
She says it is also important to encourage independence, so parents are not nagging their children in the morning.
Key to this is involving them in making a plan for the morning routine, making lunches and packing their own bags.
“It’s not being done to them, you’re doing it with them,” she says.
Things to avoid:
- Not being organised and prepared
- The last-minute rush. Check with your child beforehand – have they got everything they need.
- Losing your cool. Stay calm under pressure, demonstrate how to deal with stressful situations. The aim should be to get everyone calmly out of the door in the morning. It sets everyone up for a positive day.
Children anxious about returning to school
One in five children will demonstrate ‘school-avoidance’ due to anxiety about eating and speaking in front of others, asking to use the bathroom, being called on by the teacher, making new friends, navigating the playground or other triggers.
Carol says looking after physical and emotional wellbeing is vital, and having a good relationship with your child will make it easier for them to talk about what is making them anxious.
“When you have a quiet time, it could be in the car or when you’re taking a walk, ask them what they think or feel about starting school and what they are looking forward to or not looking forward to,” she says.
“If you can find out what that is, you can give some tips or tricks to deal with it.”
Find out more here
Most importantly, Carol says parents need to model good coping skills themselves – talk to their children about what they do when they feel uncomfortable about doing something new.
Some children find it difficult to interact with others. Joining other social, sporting or dance groups can help them develop skills to make it easier.
Carol says it is important to remember COVID-19 shutdowns and restrictions during the past two years have meant many young children have missed out on some of these social opportunities and experiences.
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