Most New Zealand school children are now enjoying the last few days of summer holidays. Many children are raring to get back to school, however some children will be apprehensive, even a little bit (or a lot!) anxious about the first few days.
Kids who are starting school for the first time or moving to a new school have to cope with the biggest adjustment, but even moving up a year level means facing more academic demands, a new teacher, making new friends, or re-establishing old friendships. For some kids, this is a breeze, but for others the last few days of the holidays can be stressful. They may show their worry by struggling to get to sleep, challenging behaviour or tearfulness. We’ve put together some simple strategies to support you to support your kids. If you have any more that you’re happy to share please leave them in the comments section below.
Have a play in the school playground
Playing alongside your kids can be an easy way to get them talking about what they might be worried about. This creates an opportunity to offer some strategies for if their worst worry comes to fruition. What if they have no-one to play with? Where will they eat their lunch?
It’s a bonus if you spot some other children there at the same time.
Create or increase your child’s familiarity with their new teachers, or teachers
All kids need to feel connected to their teacher to feel comfortable in the classroom, and in a team teaching environment this is just as important. Until they do, they are not ready to learn. Teachers know this, and “collect” their students emotionally at the start of the school year.
Print a photo of the teacher from the school website, or email the office and ask them to send one. Stick the picture to the fridge and speak positively about her/him. This adult is going to be hugely important to your child this coming year, supporting your child to feel like you, the teacher and your child are on the same team will make everything more manageable.
Practice saying goodbye
For many children, the biggest challenge will be saying goodbye to you. Talk about what you’ll say and do when it’s time to leave on the first day. You might like to invent a silly saying or rhyme that will be part of your routine, for example”
“I love you, you love me, have a great day and I’ll see you at 3!”
You might give your child a small keepsake to hold on to that reminds them of you, such as a cut-out heart with a love note, or a small stone you found on the beach together, that she can keep in her pocket while you’re apart and give back upon your return. A book that my children particularly like is ‘The Kissing Hand’ by Audrey Penn. It the story the little raccoon is afraid to let his mother go at school so she places a kiss in the palm of his hand for him to hold onto in case he needs it.
Get your bedtime routine back into action
If your house is anything like mine bedtimes slip in the holidays. In the next few days get the bedtime routine back into action to support the night before school starts back with a familiar rhythm.
Let your child choose his own stationery
As much as possible support your child to choose their own school stationery so they feel some ownership and control
The day before school starts, talk about exactly what will happen the next day
Talk through what will happen from when they wake up. Talk about how their friends might also be feeling nervous, but also excited. Remind your child how you will say goodbye and reassure them that you will be fine too.
Be prepared for after 3pm meltdowns (and 4pm, 5pm and 6pm...)
Starting something new is exhausting, especially for children. Holding it together all day can result in some pretty challenging behaviour at home. Be prepared for some tears, it won’t be just your house it’s happening in!
Take care of you too!
Believe me when I say it won’t just be you with tears in your eyes when you drive away. Trust that you’ve prepared your child for today, trust that the teaching staff have your child’s best interests at heart and trust that your child has the inner resilience to make it to 3pm.
For worry and anxiety that is causing problems in families, we recommend our book 'Maia and the Worry Bug' Written by Julie Burgess-Manning and illustrated by Jenny Cooper. This book deals with the cycle of worry within families and has suggested conversation topics and exercises for the whole family in the back.
For worry and anxiety about school and things happening outside of the family we recommend our book 'Wishes and Worries' Written by Sarina Dickson and illustrated by Jenny Cooper. This book addresses the overwhelming feeling some children experience with worry and anxiety and has lesson plans in the back for teachers.