Going back to school can be a busy, demanding and anxious time for parents and children alike. There are school uniforms and shoes to buy, new timetables, routines, classes and teachers to get to know. It can seem a little overwhelming.
While parents, no doubt, may feel anxious about how their kids are dealing with going back to school, it may take your child a while to come to terms with a whole host of emotions about going back. After all, they will need to cope with quite a lot – everything from fitting in again, getting used to the routines and obligations (homework, yuck!) and the ups and downs of the school year ahead.
This is certainly the case if going back to school involves a range of brand new experiences for them – everything from starting at a new school and getting to know different teachers and classmates, to changing from primary to secondary school.
Even something like catching the bus to and from school requires a bit of thought and planning as your little one may be feeling anxious about it. If it’s a fresh start for your child on public transport, consider asking an older sibling to go with them for the first week or find out if a school mate you know well also catches the bus and could act as a buddy.
Another factor that makes going back to school different this year is the bush fire crisis, which has affected so many communities around the country.
Even for those not directly affected, the impact of these harrowing events on your child needs to be taken into account too. They may be feeling more jittery, anxious or restless than usual because it has not been a straightforward and relaxing summer break as so much of the news has been devastating – with barely any let up.
It’s important to keep this in mind as it can add to the fact that these new routines, situations and challenges at the start of the school year may seem overwhelming. It is perfectly normal for your child to feel nervous, preoccupied or anxious about what’s ahead – allow them to tell you what is on their mind about going back to school. It may take several conversations to cover what they are feeling or if they have any worries or concerns.
On the other hand, it may be that because they had a great school year in 2019, their expectation is that 2020 will just be more of the same. If that is the case, encourage those positive thoughts, feelings and attitudes.
Try to remember that kids pick up on their parents’ mood and feelings too, so aim to keep the approach to going back to school a fun beginning for everyone. Involving your child in making their school lunch, for example, can be a great way to get the ball rolling. Once they start being given homework, talk to them often about whether they are coping or feel stressed about the demands being placed on them, or if there are certain subjects they are struggling with.
If your little one is transitioning from Year 6 to Year 7 they will need feel reassured that everything will be okay in the days and weeks ahead. This transition will be bolstered by the positive experiences and relationships they have already had in primary school such as the ones they have had with teachers and peers as well as the support they have enjoyed in the classroom and at home. Try to reinforce the view that it is possible to experience similar positive experiences going forward.
If your teenager is about to start Year 12, try not to over emphasise that the Higher School Certificate will be their main focus as the months progress – they will already be well aware of it. However, you can be there for them as a parent and act as a sounding board when they need to talk about what is going on for them, whether it’s feeling stressed, worried, frustrated or thrilled by their progress.
As a parent you will want to do as much as you can to help your child going back to school so what are some of the practical and supportive steps you can take.
A few days before school starts again, try to encourage them to start a routine that mimics the return to school – especially if they have been going to bed later than usual during the holidays, watching television and using their electronic devices a lot – start to insist on tablets and smartphones being put away at least an hour before bedtime.
You, too, might need to reassess your weekday routine if you will be having breakfast together as a family, driving or walking your children to school and getting to work on time.
No matter what age your child is one thing you can encourage as a parent is to help them set goals and take responsibility for the school year ahead. It doesn’t have to be anything too onerous – it might even be asking them to put out their school clothes for the next day or get their backpacks ready.
Remember that it might take a few weeks or months for your child to feel relaxed and comfortable about being back at school, but that is perfectly okay. If, however, you notice that they do seem unhappy or withdrawn after a period of adjustment, consider talking to the school about it or seeing one of our professional counsellors who will be able to help.