Although the first day back at school can be an exciting prospect for some children, adjustment difficulties are common. Anxious feelings are expected and normal in children returning to school, changing schools, or for first-timers starting kindergarten.
For many, going back to school feels very different this year after the abrupt changes to learning in 2020. In addition to a feeling of excitement about seeing friends and teachers, children may also experience anxiety and fear— anxiety about COVID-19, being behind academically, meeting new children, or being in a new school. So how do we prevent normal fears from becoming a bigger problem?
If you are looking for easy ways to support your child as they prepare to head back to school, we have enlisted the help of counsellor, mental health researcher, and Senior Lecturer at Excelsia College, Dr Dion Khlentzos. He shares five simple tips to prepare your child emotionally for returning to school.
- Encourage your child to share their fears
Teaching your child how to manage and talk through their fears will help them build the confidence and independence they will need to feel more in control, and less afraid, both now and as they grow up.
“Your child may be anxious returning to school (or starting a new one), even though you might be relieved! Let your child talk through with you any fears they may be experiencing about the coming year. Even just listening to them is a help.”
- Use open communication
Warm, gentle and responsive communication helps children feel safe and secure. It also builds and strengthens your relationship with them. To grow and develop skills, children need safety, security and strong relationships, so communicating well with children is essential to development.
“Check in with your child after the first week to see how things are tracking regarding friends, peers, teachers, subjects, and adjustment. It is important to keep the lines of communication open at all times.”
- Utilise school resources
Remember, regardless of whether your child is part of an independent or department of education school, there is always access to someone who can assist them with their welfare.
“If your child has not adjusted as well as either you or they expected, consider organising a time for them to have an educational assessment with the school counsellor. The biggest benefit of school counsellors is that they prepare students for academic, career and social challenges. They can make students motivated learners and facilitate their exploration of careers.”
- Limit screen time
Fostering a childhood that is not dependent on screens is critical. There is only one way to manage kids’ screen time: parenting. It is up to parents to establish rules, guidelines, and habits that lead to an appropriate amount of time with computers, video games, tablets, and phones.
“Support your child to limit their use of social media as much as possible. Agree on a maximum amount of screen time per day, and brainstorm healthy alternatives. Screens steal time and attention away from other healthy and growth-promoting activities, and what a child does or sees on screen might be harmful or cause even more anxiety.”
- Prioritise your own self-care
As parents, we are expected to do our absolute best for our children and often put their needs above our own. If you have had a stressful holiday (or 2020!), you may need to seek some support for yourself. There are helplines such as Parent Line that offer resources for parents. They can be contacted on 1300 1300 52.
“Taking care of your spiritual, physical, psychological, and social needs will help you feel your best so you can be the best parent you can be. While there are many different self-care strategies for parents, it is important to experiment with them to figure out which strategies work best for you. It could be meditation, exercise or reading. You can also talk to your GP (doctor) about your mental health. All doctors differ in expertise and experience in areas of mental illness. If they are unable to help, they can always refer you to someone who can.”