The new school term is looming and you are questioning how to help when your child is anxious about starting school. How will your child cope with settling in to school? As a parent you may be asking how to give their child the support that’s needed to cope with this big transition in their lives.
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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:
Success – Communicate – Help – Open-ess – Optimism – Love
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 instill a sense of anxiety.
School isn’t meant to focus on how many “A’s” 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.
Success in school and in life is determined by what we judge success to be.
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If your child goes through a time of feeling anxious give reassurance, but most importantly give your child the space for him to 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. For more about how to listen to your child see Childcare Concerns: How to Listen to Your Child.
Also communicate with the school. Keep communication channels open 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.
Help your child to help themsleves. Think about practical things your child needs to deal with at school – like knowing where the toilet is and being able to handle her toileting routine.
If she isn’t wearing a school uniform, make sure that her clothing is suitable for her to manage herself. It’s hard for a child to go to the toilet independently if she’s wearing dungarees!
Similarly make sure she can open the catches on her suitcase and lunchbox. Knowing how to handle the little tasks at school will build her confidence to cope with the school day.
Be open about arrangements. If you’ve promise to be there early to meet her, 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 after school. The more certain your child is about arrangements the easier it will be for him 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.” “My child doesn’t like her teacher.”
And only discuss concerns with those who really need to know!
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
- Open-ess – 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.
If you’ve found this article helpful you may also enjoy “Is It Okay To Stay With My Child When She Starts School?” where a mother shares her experience.
You might also enjoy reading “Simple Routines to Get Back into The School Routine Quickly”
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Please add your questions and comments about your experiences of your child starting school. How did you cope with your child’s anxiety or other challenges? Or what “back to school” challenges are you facing now?