Are you preparing for your child’s first day of school? Or perhaps this year you’re hoping to change a negative school experience for your child?
Some children love school and enjoy participating in the ‘back to school’ preparations, but for others this time of the year is not so joyful. Some feel like they are literally losing their freedom, and soon they’ll be back to the daily struggles that seemed so tough. The anxiety and pressure of having to following routine, and participate in tasks that always feel really hard like handwriting, reading, making and keeping friends. For these children it feels like no matter how hard they try they just can’t get good at it.
Even anxiety jumped up at me when I looked at my diary and saw that Term 1 was just around the corner. Working with children on the transition from casual dress (or for some wearing nothing at all) to a uniform, from free-time to structured learning… Argh!
Anxiety comes from not knowing what is coming ahead. This is why we use diaries and calendars, and make time to plan for the week ahead. Giving your child control of anything possible is a good way to build confidence and decrease worry. Here are some suggestions for your family to support the transition or recommencement of school, whether they are ready for it, or not.
Now is the time to consider what issues have been challenging for your child. Write them down and reflect on what could have been the cause. You can then make a proactive plan about how to make this year different. Make sure your list prioritizes their mental and emotional health needs just as high as their academic needs. After all, how can you learn when you are anxious or stressed? In your plan include what tools, services, people and resources will you be looking into to try and help them overcome their greatest challenges? Yoga and gymnastics are always recommendations I make for a child’s mental and emotional health. We are lucky to have both activities available for our children in Swan Hill.
Do you have a child who needs to fiddle to concentrate? Then make sure they are equipped with some good resources right from the start. My favourites are the wooden massager and theraputty, because they are both soothing, feel nice, meet a need and are not distracting to others. Make sure you try them at home first to ensure they do help your child to focus. It is also important to discuss your child’s needs with their teacher.
Lay out school uniforms the week prior to starting school. This gives your child time to process that school is returning. Allow your child to shop with you and make choices if possible about school attire. Quite often, uniform material is much more stiff and gives that “pinchy feeling” than lighter summer clothing (or again, nothing at all if that’s your child’s preference). Make a schedule and encourage your child to practice putting on their school uniform and wearing it for a brief time each day. You can gradually work up the time if there is an issue. Be sure to offer a reward for a job well done. Having another child such as a sibling or friend complete this activity with your child can be especially fun. Allow them to use their school uniform during imaginative “school” play. If your child is sensitive to school socks there are seamless socks available. They are hard to source in Australia, but you are welcome to contact us to place an order.
By now you should have school supplies purchased and if not, do not leave it any later. Take your child to the store and allow them to make choices of the colour of folders, books, brands of pencils, etc. Any choice you are able to give your child encourages feelings that they are in control of the situation. This is important as so many aspects of school are beyond a child’s control.
INVOLVE YOUR CHILD
Ask your child to help you label items. This is something Mum always did with us. It is a good way to practice writing their name. Allow your child to choose the colour of the marker. Using a thick marker is a good way to increase hand strength. Squeezing the tool can work on those hand muscles. Laminating books also involves precision and patience.
Obtain the daily school schedule and post it on the refrigerator or a centrally located area. Review the schedule and use words such as “It’s 9:00 now, when you are at school you will be sitting on the mat at this time with the other kids and your new teacher… It’s 1:00 now, when you are at school you will be eating lunch with lots of other kids”. Do this frequently throughout the day.
Begin to practice handwriting with your child. Have them help you make the grocery list, daily schedule, or write cards to family and friends. Making handwriting fun is so important to build confidence and strengthen those hand muscles in preparation for school.
Bedtime routines should start at least 3 weeks prior to school. If you haven’t started already, now is the time. It won’t be easy but do not fret. Gradually work up to the desired bedtime and make a written “wind-down” schedule of activities that are calming for bed time. Allow your child to help make the schedule and give rewards for every little success. Use calming music, massage, and soothing scents (lavender is great) in the bath to encourage the body and mind to relax.
TEACHER & SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT
Meet with your child’s teacher prior to the first day of school. A trip to their classroom with a camera is an excellent preparation activity. Allow them to take pictures of the classroom, desk, bag area, playground, etc. If you have a child that is sensitive to sounds you can show them the speakers around the school and what sounds to expect by using a Sound-Eaze/School-Eaze CD or YouTube to listen to the sounds of fire alarms, music, announcements etc. Giving them the heads-up of what sounds to expect is a good tool to decrease anxiety of the unknown. The more preparation you can give your child, the more likely they will be able to make a successful transition into the classroom.
Encourage your child to try their best and that they do not have to be perfect. Mistakes are the best way to show that your child is trying. Never be too busy with life to take the time to reward your child for good qualities and times of success. We often find ourselves looking at our child’s weaknesses that we often forget about their strengths. Remember, whatever your child’s strengths may be, this will drive their success.
I highly recommend reading The Strength Switch by Dr Lea Waters. A beautiful work experience student gave this book to me and I really enjoyed it. It can help your child build resilience, optimism and achievement. It provides many suggestions for specific techniques to interact with your children, how to discover their strengths and talents, use positive emotions as a resource, build strong brains, and even how to deal with problem behaviours.