Back in our classroom teaching days, we remember inviting parents to participate in typical activities their children would do, as part of the classroom open day.
This created an interesting phenomenon: the parents would revert to their inner child – feeling unsure about new activities, wanting to get things right and keep up with the other ‘kids’. When faced with the pressures of learning challenges and new expectations in an unfamiliar environment, they sometimes struggled – just as children do in the first week of school.
Children are constantly thrown into the unknown at school, but never more than when settling into a new classroom. At this time of year, parents are often concerned about how their child will handle the transition to the new year level and a changed classroom environment. For some children, fitting in at school may be a challenge, while for others, navigating the unknown is a cause of great anxiety.
Children are concerned with challenges such as whether their friends will be near them, whether they will make new friends quickly, what the teacher will be like, what the new classroom rules and routines are all about, and what will be expected of them. Most children have questions about all these aspects of the new school year, so it is no wonder that it is an intense time that can cause some stress and tiredness.
Other factors that may increase stress levels include the primary to high school transition, moving to a new school, simultaneous change at home (such as moving house or a separation), discord at home or with friendship groups, or a child who is particularly shy or struggling with self-esteem. These children may need extra support to work through this time of change at school.
According to Parents Magazine, a child’s confidence is partly determined by their carers’ ability to focus on the glass half full, refrain from rescuing, and allow the child to make some decisions to solve problems.
Here are some steps you can take to ease your child into the new school year experience:
- Establish a routine early. Predictability puts children at ease because it helps them feel some control over the situation.
- Engage in regular conversation about the experience. Discuss expectations and feelings in the lead up to the school week, and unpack the day in the evening.
- Foster familiarity. This can be as simple as taking some quiet time in the evening to go through what is in the child’s school bag for the next day, or discussing new textbooks just purchased.
- Ensure your child is organised for school. Children, especially young children, have a strong need to fit in and have the correct uniform items, stationery etc. and to be seen to be doing the ‘right’ thing. While some of these things may seem trivial, they can be causes of great distress!
- Create a calm environment. If your morning at home flows, your child will be set up for a great day. Teaching your child some relaxation skills such as deep breathing can be beneficial.
- Encourage friendship-building. The school day is so much better when a child has a trusted buddy by their side! Talk about your child’s classmates and encourage curiosity and assertiveness in making friends.
- Be pro-active about communicating your child’s learning needs. Don’t assume that the new teacher is up-to-date on this – in primary school, handover from one teacher to the other is not always systemised. Get to know the new teacher early.
- Focus on the positive. Reinforce your child’s strengths and their ability to handle any challenges that come their way. Discuss issues that came up and acknowledge fears, but focus on the good things that happened in your child’s day.
Wishing you a happy new school year!