6 Expert Tips to Prepare Children for Back to School
After a much-needed break following a big year, it’s almost time to go back to school. Depending on your child’s personality and their experience with COVID lockdowns and homeschooling, they may either be raring to go or feeling worried and anxious.
“There is a lot of uncertainty about what this year will bring academically,” says Educational and Developmental Psychologist Dr Kimberley O’Brien. “Will we be homeschooling for half the year? No one knows and that can be unsettling for some children and families.”
When it comes to reducing anxiety around back to school, planning ahead is key. Dr Kimberley gives us her six top tips for getting children back into school mode.
1. Refresh uniforms
“Even adults can have a negative reaction to putting on their old work clothes at the end of holidays!” says Dr Kimberley. “If you can revamp the school uniform by buying new hair bows, shoes or a hat, it’ll give children something new to look forward to wearing rather than having to put their old gear back on and pick up the same feeling of last year.”
You can also check that your child’s school bag and other accessories are still in working order. “The feeling of wrestling with an old broken zipper can bring back old frustrations and tensions,” says Dr Kimberley. “The small details can make a big difference.”
This learning module will teach children how to use self-talk to enhance their performance.
2. Do a walk-by
Preparing children for a new environment before they have to go there boosts their self-confidence, so Dr Kimberley suggests finding a reason to walk by the school before the first day.
“Even if you just walk by and say, ‘Oh, look, they haven’t cut the grass in a while’ or you go to the office and ask when the uniform shop is open, it will help your child feel like they’re a step ahead of the mob,” she explains. “There will be masses of people on the first day, but if you were there the day before, your child will feel like they’re already familiar with the environment. They’ll think, ‘Oh yeah, I was here yesterday, no big deal.’”
3. Get back into a routine
Late nights and sleep-ins are great during the holidays, but suddenly going back to early mornings can lead to exhaustion and moodiness. “Children who are well-rested and well-prepared will be easier to manage when school goes back, so try to get into the routine of earlier nights the week before school returns,” advises Dr Kimberley.
She also suggests practicing the morning routine a few times. “Whether it involves setting an alarm, getting children to prepare their breakfasts or getting out the door by a certain time, try to practice it before school returns,” says Dr Kimberley.
4. Cut back on screen time
Families tend to relax their screen-time rules during the holidays, so reinstating school-time limits overnight can be another rude shock for children.
“Teachers often bear the brunt of children’s screen withdrawals, so starting to set limits the week before school starts will be beneficial,” says Dr Kimberley. “Slowly decrease their screen time until you’ve reached the level you want them to maintain throughout the school year.”
5. Go stationery shopping
“Stationery shopping is always a highlight of back to school with cute pens and rubbers or a new pencil case,” says Dr Kimberley. “You’ll often see other children at the stationery shop too, so there’s a bit of a buzz in the air and children get excited about the year ahead.”
Stationery shopping is also a good time to focus on one-on-one time with your child. “You can work together to figure out what’s still working from last year and what you need to buy,” says Dr Kimberley. “You can also discuss the new skills they might be learning with the new tools they’re buying. It’s a simple activity that offers plenty of opportunities to build anticipation.”
6. Be mindful
On the first day of school, be mindful and self-aware as you enter school grounds. “When children feel overwhelmed in large crowds or due to loud noise, they need to re-engage their senses,” says Dr Kimberley. “As you walk into school, encourage your child to engage with the sensory experiences around them. Slow down, feel the bark of a tree or listen to the birds. Help your child slowly engage in the environment by tuning into their senses.”
Dr Kimberley notes that parents can monitor and tune into their own senses too. “Convey calm conversations and monitor your own excitability among other parents,” she says. “Instead, tune into your child’s feelings and observe the facial expressions of other children as you both gently adapt to the environment,” she says.
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