We understand that a new school year can bring questions or concerns to both parent and child. On a personal level, our Mindful Hub creator, Tegan has a little one starting in her Prep/Foundation year, so we though it was fitting to reach out to our followers on social media and give them the opportunity to any ask and questions that are on their mind before school beings this week. Our Psychologist, Helena (H) and Primary Education and Special Needs expert, Nikala (N) have answered some of the most common questions that popped up over the past week.
- My child seems very ready to start school, but as my eldest and first to go off to school, I’m not sure I am. Is that selfish?
H: It is very natural and normal to feel this way. This is a BIG transition and change in your life that will take some time to adjust to. It shows how important your child is to you and how you want to keep them close and safe. It is important to be kind to yourself through this process. Try to acknowledge and make space to grieve while also seeing the benefits that may come with your child going to school – not only your child but for you too.
N: If you know your child is ready then you need to focus on what an amazing adventure they’re going to embark on. Think of the new opportunities and experiences they’re going to have this year. As an ex Prep/Foundation teacher, I used to acknowledge that these people are their parents most valuable asset and that’s exactly how I would care for them during their time with me at school. It’s a great opportunity for you both to learn, grow and experience new things. Good luck, they will be ok and so will you!
- My son is a little anxious around new people and new surroundings which is making me nervous for him to start school next week.
H: Starting school is hard for all children and it would be expected that emotions will be high for everyone in the first weeks. Teachers will be aware of this and have ways to make this transition fun and supportive for students. With time, your son will become more familiar with the setting and his anxiety will subside. Your son is likely looking up to you to work out how he should be feeling about starting school. It is important to try your best to stay strong for him and not let on you are nervous. He will likely follow your example.
N: You may notice that he will extremely tired for the first few weeks (if he’s anxious, he’s working extra hard to be in his new classroom). I would recommend adjusting your usual routine accordingly. Make sure afternoons are quiet and structured activity free, early bed times, healthy dinners etc. Prep/Foundation teachers always expose their new classes to things slowly and are always close by! He will build relationships with his teachers and peers and hopefully become more comfortable with his new surroundings. I would organise a time to have a quick chat with his teacher so they can keep an eye on his anxiety (you might be able to tell them what his anxiety looks like so they can easily identify it in the classroom). Communication between parents and teachers is extremely valuable. There are a few great books that talk about feeling worried and anxious when being separated from parents and starting school. I would recommend a book called The Kissing Hand written by Audrey Penn. I would also recommend doing a few walks through the school (if you have access) over the next few days, or even to the front gate so he can see his new school. Make sure you are excited and make it seem like a wonderful place to be. If he knows you think it’s a great place, then it may help to reassure him.
- I’m worried about little things like my child not having enough time to eat lunch, and then being completely zonked due to lack of energy.
H: It sounds like you’re feeling anxious about things that will no longer be in your control. Find comfort in the fact that your child will not be alone through this process and there will be other adults there to guide them. It may also be helpful to challenge some of these worries e.g., even if this comes true – how bad will it be? This is a new space to navigate and will become easier.
N: They will be completely zonked for the first 5 weeks of school, even the ones who do manage to eat their lunch! Teachers are fairly good at monitoring these things. Sometimes children are so excited and happy to be playing and talking with their friends, they do run out of time to eat. As a teacher who taught little people, I was always happy to provide extra time and check in on children and their lunch boxes. Some children need to know what to eat and when. If you think this might help, you could colour code – for example, everything in the green container you must eat, anything in the blue container is a can eat (extra food). Make sure all of their containers and packaging is easy to open if you don’t think they will ask for assistance. If you are concerned have a chat with the teacher in charge and I am sure they will be happy to help.
- I don’t know how my little one will cope with so many kids at big school, compared to 30 total pre-schoolers.
H: This is likely a worry many parents have. Every child will be challenged with the transition into school, it is rarely smooth sailing for all kids. It’s a big step and all children will navigate it differently. Make space for your child to share their worries with you – this will help you to guide them through any problems they face when they arise. Don’t assume the worst – children are very resilient and once they get over their nerves they learn to love school!
N: It can be very difference and very overwhelming. I am not sure about your educational setting, but at my school we have 1200 students and keep the preps/foundation kids separate. They have their own eating and play areas. Other schools I have worked at do let them run loose throughout the entire school. If this is the case for your school, you will find it will be a very well structured and possibly a gradual process. The children will be explicitly taught where to play, who to ask for help, and where to find other essential things (i.e. toilets, drinks taps) while out in the playground.
- When should I be concerned about the level of anxiety my daughter is showing at school drop off? She is in grade 1 this year and last year when I picked her from school she seemed to be really enjoying school and not in a rush to leave, however drop off was the opposite.
H: It sounds like your daughter’s anxiety is anticipatory – as in she expects school to be much worse than it is. Once she is there and settles in she becomes comfortable and by the end of the day is enjoying it. Try and help her to remember this pattern in the morning to ease some of her anxiety and help her challenge her fears. It may be helpful to seek some support if it starts becoming very difficult to get your daughter to school e.g., tantrums, screaming at gate, refusal to get out of the car; or if she starts to actively avoid school altogether e.g., says she’s sick often.
N: At my school, for children who have anxiety (particularly, separation anxiety from parents in the morning), we have a planned response/routine. Both the teachers and parents have a script that we follow so the child knows exactly what part of the drop off they’re up to. It also makes it very routine and predictable which makes children feel safer during these times. Your teacher might be able to support transition by giving your child a special job to do, as a parent you can run through your good-bye script, and then say it’s time for you to do your jobs and then leave. If you are concerned most school offices will let you call, and they will speak to the teacher and will let you know if your child has settled in. Often once they start to interact with other their new friends, their anxiety decreases significantly! However, as mentioned by Helena if the anxiety continues to increase, seeking some professional support may be advised.
- This year is our first official year of home-schooling our 6-year-old. We have found an amazing curriculum that we feel really aligned with, however our small community does not have a lot of other homeschoolers. What is your advice regarding an approximate number of hours advised for interaction with other kids? And do these hours need to be all free play or will organised activities suffice for adequate socialisation (group sport lessons, music classes etc.)?
H: I would recommend a mixture of organised activities and free play if possible. It is hard to put a number on it as it really depends on your schedules and resources. I would encourage you to weigh up how much you can realistically fit in and afford without straining the family unit. Good luck!
- What are some tips on helping kids get ready in the morning?
H: Before waking the kids having lunch boxes and uniforms organised will help to keep morning time as hassle free as possible. You could get the kids to help the night before with these tasks as well. Explaining the morning routine to the kids and the reasons for getting up at a certain time will help them be engaged in the process. Try to follow the same routine each morning. Remember to praise children when they are doing the right thing. If they are finding it difficult discussing the natural consequences with them will be helpful e.g., being on time is good, running late makes us stressed and doesn’t set us up for a good day
N: You can find heaps of charts or pictures online if you google “what I need to do to be ready for school”. Find one that suits your morning routine best or create your own!
- What are some tips for helping kids get back into a healthy sleep pattern and helping them to unwind at night?
Sleep routines for children follow a similar structure as sleep for adults. It’s all about having activities before sleep that are consistent. We then learn to associate those activities with winding down and going to sleep. There is some evidence that a small glass of milk before bed can help with sleep. Other parts of the routine can be bath time after dinner, story time, or listening to relaxing music or a mindfulness meditation. Discussing sleep times with children and explaining the reasons for sleep at that time will be helpful as well.
Thank you to everyone who emailed or sent questions through via social media and we hope that your child/ren’s 2019 school year is an enjoyable journey that helps to further the love of learning for your family.
If you are think that you as a parent or your child or children are not coping (and it is negatively impacting life’s normal activities), feel free to get in contact with our Psychologist Helena who has great experience working with both young children, adolescents and adults.