Starting or returning to school can be a stressful time for children of all ages.
Royal Far West Psychologist Emmy shares their top tips for helping ease children back into school-life, and provides recommendations for making the transition as easy as possible for children and parents alike.
Remember, open and honest communication in a safe space is key, and kids should always be allowed to take the lead in conversations about their feelings.
Normalise feeling a bit nervous: Whether it is their first day at a new school or beginning their fifth year at the same school, it can be a big change to go from long summer holidays back into the classroom. There’s a lot of uncertainty and it is perfectly normal for the kids to feel a bit worried. Try having open and honest conversations with your children and use phrases like “I can understand why you might feel a bit nervous” or “Going to school can be a bit scary, and exciting too.”
Listen without judgement or problem-solving: If kids want to talk about their nerves, try to listen with empathy. Sometimes we all just want to say our worries out loud and feel like someone heard us. Even if their problems sound small and silly to you, it’s not the case for them. If it sounds like they’re getting very stuck on a particular idea, or coming up with catastrophic scenarios (“everyone will hate me”) you can offer some gentle challenging there such as “I’ve heard you mention this before, can you tell me more about why you think that? Have there been times when that wasn’t true?”
Prepare for them being tired and moody: Try to stick to a routine at home that ensures they are getting enough to eat, enough sleep, and enough physical activity. This might mean having some of their favourite meals planned for breakfast and dinner, making sure screens are off well before bedtime, and that active kids are given a chance to run around after sitting still all day in class. But remember even with all this, it’s a big change and kids are tired and overwhelmed. Kids will often show their worry and stress by ‘acting up’. If they are moody, sassy, more difficult than usual, try very hard not to take it personally and try not to turn it into an argument. “It seems like you’re tired and a bit grouchy after school, that’s understandable. Let’s take a break.”
Emmy also says, “Reach out to the school if your child is really struggling. Schools have lots of experience with kids who are anxious about attending and can put in place ideas to make it less stressful for yours. In some instances, they may connect you with the school counsellor or other local supports to assist.”