Unlike many anxieties our children experience, preparing for school is unique in that we know what they are going through. This can be a blessing; we are able to offer an understanding ear and some empathy for what our children are experiencing. However, in some cases, we as adults, pass on our own anxieties to our children, which can make it harder for them to navigate the changes they’re going through.
The good news is that there are a number of things we can do as parents to prepare our children for the return to school.
Talk to them
Chat with your child about starting school. What do they think it will be like? What are they most looking forward to? Is there anything they’re unsure or worried about? Look through the school website or the brochure together and talk about what that means to them.
Show them that we’ve all been there before
Dig out old photos of you when you were at school – the happy ones, of school plays and end of term discos. Talk to your child about all the happy memories you have from school and the friends you made along the way.
Take away any unknowns
Visit the school before your child is due to start and make sure the journey feels familiar to them, that will take away some of the anxiety on the first morning of the new term. Encourage your child to try on their new shoes, so they’re comfortable for the first day. Try and find some children that are already at the school and invite them over to play, that way your child can get answers to their questions from one of their peers.
Find similarities between school and home life
Fear of starting school is very often due to an unfamiliarity of something new. By creating positive associations with the start of the new term, we can reduce the anxiety our children feel. For younger children, this might be as simple as keeping exciting stuff like colouring pencils in a school bag and taking them out when we want to colour at home. That way, they can start to associate school with interesting activities that they enjoy.
Prepare them for routines
School is all about routines. The more familiar your child is with routines at home, the easier it will be for them to get used to how the school works.
The step up to secondary school brings additional challenges. Our children will be expected to take responsibility for themselves in a way they never have before at school – and probably at home. However big the desire to pander to them for one last summer, now’s the time to help them on their way by increasing their responsibilities at home too. Some simple ideas would be setting their alarm clock; packing their own bags for trips and outings; polishing their shoes and ironing their clothes. The more they can do for themselves before the new term starts, the better they’ll be able to cope.
Starting, or going back, to school is not the big unknown it used to be. The Internet helps us connect with each other and places in ways we couldn’t years ago. Of course it’s a nerve-racking time – for you and your child – but try and stay positive so they don’t pick up on your anxiety!