The new school year is not far away and the key to a successful return to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!
Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!
This time of year is usually so hectic. This year make getting ready for school a team effort and involve the children as much as possible.
• Change schedules – Routines usually become more flexible during the holidays. Consider moving back to a term-time schedule a few days in advance of school starting. Whether it is going to bed or waking up earlier, allowing time to settle down to the term-time regime BEFORE the impact of the first day back makes a smoother transition.
• Clothing – Children have a habit of growing during summer vacation so do make sure their school clothes and shoes still fit ahead of the Labor Day. Don’t leave it till the night before to check. Consider whether your child is now old enough to take more responsibility for looking after his choice of clothes, putting them in the wash and organizing in their room. Is everything marked? Perhaps your children can even learn to sew on those name tags if required. Also, if your child's school has a dress code (some schools have a no tank tops rule and shorts have to be no shorter than 4" above the knee), make sure your child's clothes comply.
• School Supplies –Involve the children in assembling what they need for school. There will probably be a checklist from the school.
• Lunch –If your child takes a packed lunch to school a few days before term starts practice making it – and eating it – as it may be different from what they’ve been having in the holidays. This might be a time to start involving them in the preparation.
• Infrastructure –Set up white/notice boards for schedules somewhere conspicuous. Have designated, accessible places for school bags, shoes and coats. Consider whether keeping toothbrushes and hairbrushes downstairs would facilitate a quicker getaway in the mornings.
Chat through what is needed for the first day back. Ask your children questions to get their input and Descriptively Praise their answers. Ask THEM to write shopping or other lists and check items off. All these things help them not only take responsibility and develop competencies but they also give you LOTS of opportunities for Descriptive Praise, which also helps boost self-esteem.
And there’s a great side effect – it will reduce the pressure on you. The return to school is a busy time of year and if you feel overwhelmed and underappreciated you might fall back into old habits of nagging, shouting, and the like!
Emotional preparation is just as important as getting kit together.
Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!
Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.
If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.
For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this coding. It’s complicated and time-consuming but you persevered until you could do it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”
Helping them cope with their feelings
There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.
When we accept and validate negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ – such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately.
For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new people and places you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”
Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.
Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.
Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.
Empathize with any reluctance to go to school. Did you love every single day of school?! It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Knowing that feeling is understood and accepted makes it easier to keep going.
“I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”
“You might be wishing you didn’t have to change schools. You feel sad about leaving your friends and teachers. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly. You might miss your old school for a while. Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”
Continued reluctance may mean there is something else going on which merits further investigation.
And two last tips!
First, remember how tiring school is for children of all ages. It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness – because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school. Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.
And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, they pick this up. So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.
What do you do that helps prepare children for school life? Elaine found that adjusting the coat pegs to a height her children could reach without a stool meant that they actually hung up their coats!
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Melissa & Elaine
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