Practical tips to get your child into the right frame of mind for school

Oh, bliss! It's the week before school and our brains are tap dancing with a mixture of trepidation and joy at the thought of getting back into the school routine. 

While teachers are setting up classrooms, creating lesson plans and organising timetables around classes, duties and extracurricular activities, you're wrestling with sticky contact paper, deciding whether the mould in the corners of last year's lunchboxes is really that bad or not, and wondering how in the world you're ever going to get everyone through the school gates on time next Monday.

To top it all off, you sense anxiety building in your household. Yes, your child might be bored. Yes, they may be somewhat excited about school. But there’s also some nervousness. To help you, we’ve put together a list of things that will smooth the way, starting with what you can do right now.

7 THINGS TO BEAT ANXIETY THIS WEEK

  1. Stay upbeat. If they’re not too worried about going back to school, avoid planting seeds of worry. Make sure your conversations about what they can expect are upbeat.
  2. Friends. If your child is worried about making friends, set up a playdate with someone from school or in their class this year. If they’re coming to BAC for the first time, remind them that they will have lots of opportunities for making friends and that this can be one of the best things about going to a new school. Also let them know that the teachers will be watching and checking to make sure they are involved and feel welcome.
  3. Shopping trip. You might have bought most of what your kids need, but make a special trip to the shops. This might be to select a lunchbox or crayons, pencils, notepads and contact paper (please make sure the designs are not overtly violent or sexual). This trip should be fun for both of you!
  4. Sleep schedule. Get the sleep schedule back on track. Because things are more relaxed over holidays, sleep schedules can go out the window. This week, get them back into the kind of schedule they will need during school. For ideal sleep durations for each age groups, please consult the Sleep Foundation's recommendations.
  5. Together time. Read together at night when anxiety is at it’s highest. Choose books in which the characters ultimately overcome their challenges. Happy endings help children open up about their own fears and feel more optimistic about future challenges.
  6. Practice run. If you feel that your child would benefit, take a casual drive past where you’ll be dropping them off and picking them up. Stop and go inside. Show them where they’ll enter and suggest a routine when they first arrive. This might include putting their bag away and taking a drink from the bubblers, then wandering over to the handball courts.
  7. Create a cool school nook. Give your child a special place to do homework. Let them set them up with everything they will need, including paper and maybe even some special stationery. On their first day of homework, prepare a healthy snack and let them eat as they start their homework. This makes homework a whole lot more palatable, pardon the pun! 

THE EVENING BEFORE THE FIRST BIG DAY

Night-before routines. Lay out everything ready for school the next day, including uniforms, backpacks, lunchboxes, special snacks, water bottles, and school supplies. Take a bit more time to say goodnight with lots of hugs and laughs, and a story before lights out. You don’t have to make a big deal out of school, but you do need to signal that everyone is ready.

3 WAYS TO AVOID NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES ON THEIR FIRST DAY

  1. De-stress your morning routine so there is less anxiety around your departure for school. Be patient with your child if they are a bit slow and incorporate some extra time to make sure you’re not late. Consider offering a little reward for getting to the car or bus on time.
  2. Keep your goodbyes short and sweet. Even if your child seems a little anxious, they will take their cues from you. Devise a nice goodbye ritual. This might be a quick kiss and a silly saying: ‘chop chop, lollipop’, ‘take care, polar bear’, ‘gotta go, buffalo’, ‘blow a kiss, goldfish’, ‘out the door, dinosaur’, ‘in an hour, sunflower—maybe two, kangaroo’, ‘see you later, alligator—in awhile, crocodile’.
  3. Pick up on time. At the end of the first day, the last thing you want to do is be late! Ask how things went, what they learnt today and what’s on the cards for tomorrow. Always show an interest in what they are learning. This makes them more positive about learning, which pays dividends as they progress through school. 

Enjoy your last few days of holidays, everyone! We’ll be seeing you shortly. In the meantime, why don’t you read about how young brains can change and grow and how to develop a ‘growth mindset’? This is the kind of thinking that helps kids make the most of life and learning. Keep an eye out for any other handy parent resources and blogs we post this year.

AUTHOR: Debbie Cosier is an education writer, a mum, and a former teacher and learning enrichment coordinator.