With the new school term looming, are you questioning how to help when your child is anxious about starting school? Equip yourself with essential tools to help your child and make the school day drop off significantly less stressful for everyone.
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How will your child cope with settling in to school? As a parent you may be asking how to give your child the support that’s needed to cope with this big transition in their lives.
Let’s use the word ‘S-C-H-O-O-L’ as a tool to reflect on what a parent can do to help a child take this big step:
- S – Success
- C – Communicate
- H – Help
- O – Openness
- O – Optimism
- L – Love
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When Your Child is Anxious About Starting School
Success in school – and in life – is determined by what we judge success to be. Take time to reflect on what success really means. If a parent gives a child messages about ‘being the best’ and ‘working hard’ they might instil a sense of anxiety.
School isn’t meant to focus on how many top marks or “As” you achieve, or whether you’re best at sport. Rather measure success as how well your child is being prepared for life.
Parenting is not a competition. Support your child to develop the art of kind and pleasant interactions, the skills of taking responsibility, to be curious, creative and courageous to try new endeavours.
If your child goes through a time of feeling anxious give reassurance, but most importantly give your child the space for him to share how he is feeling and what he is experiencing. So often as a parent coach I hear parents say:
“How do I get my child to listen to me?”
I invite you to flip the question on its head and ask yourself:
“How well do I listen to my child?”
When we validate our child’s experience and acknowledge their feelings we calm their anxiety, which helps them to think more clearly about the situation.
It is also important to communicate with the school. Almost all teachers want to help your child to have a happy school experience. Make sure to read any notes sent from the school and keep in contact with the staff, particularly keep open the two-way communication if your child is anxious or battling to settle.
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Help your child to help themselves. Think about practical things your child needs to deal with at school – like knowing where the toilet is and being able to comfortably go by himself or herself.
If your child doesn’t wear a school uniform, make sure that the clothing is suitable for them to manage by themselves.
Similarly, make sure to practice opening lunchbox, drinks, schoolbags, etc so you can be sure your child manages them independently when at school. Knowing how to handle these little tasks will build confidence to cope with the school day.
Be open about arrangements. If you’ve promised to be at school early to meet your child, keep your word. Unless arrangements have to change in the case of an emergency, you need to let your child know who will collect him/her after school. The more certain your child is about arrangements, the easier it will be to settle.
Also be open to how your child is feeling.
If he tells you he’s unhappy, listen to what he’s saying.
If he makes a comments like “stupid teacher”, listen to your child’s experience.
If you say, “We don’t talk about our teachers like that” without first listening to what lies behind that comment, you may encourage your child to go ‘underground’ about their upsets or anxieties. So keep the communication channels open.
It’s also important to keep the communication open between yourself and the school staff. If your child is unhappy or anxious, book an appointment to speak to the teacher, or if necessary the principal.
If your child hears you making comments like “I’m worried about how my child will cope at school”, she’s likely to buy into your anxiety.
When your child is anxious about starting school, let her hear you speaking confidently and optimistically that school will be a positive experience.
Of course, this is not denying the importance of openness, but if your child is going through a tough patch, don’t discuss this with others in front of your child. Don’t let your child hear you say things like:
“My child hates school” or “My child doesn’t like her teacher”.
Your child could come to believe these words if she hears them repeated, so if someone asks you about how your child is settling at school, respond in a way that expresses hope that school will be a positive experience.
The most helpful definition of love I’ve come across are Scott Peck’s words: “Love is extending yourself to cause the other person’s growth”.
One of the most loving things you can do for your child is to give him the competence and the confidence to be able to cope without you being alongside him all the time. Love is giving him the roots to know that he is loved, and love is also supporting him to spread his wings and fly!
So, if you are questioning how to help when your child is anxious about starting school hold S-C-H-O-O-L in mind.
- Success – reflect on what this means for your child to thrive
- Communicate – ensure that you are listening to your child’s experience
- Help – help your child to help herself
- Openness – acknowledge your child’s experience and feelings
- Optimism – give your child hope that any upset is temporary and that she’ll soon feel happy at school (whilst also acknowledging that it might not feel like that yet).
- Love – is supporting your child in the way that will build trust and confidence, so that she can move happily into this next in step in her young life.
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