First published in Kiwi Families online resource.
All around the country families are starting to prepare for their child’s return to school or starting school for the first time! We’re finding or buying school bags, books, clothes, sandals, uniforms for some and generally starting to get our heads into gear for the big transition back to school. For some of you, your child will be starting in Year 1, for many, your child is moving into a new class with a new teacher, with new children and for some it’s a change of school. But for most of us, there’s a lot to think about and prepare.
One thing’s for sure, it’s a transition and such a transition can bring its challenges as well as excitement! In this article, I’ll share some thoughts that might help to make the transition a little bit smoother.
The more prepared and warmed up your child is, and indeed you are, the easier the transition is likely to be. For children to feel less daunted and more empowered with their coming change, it helps if they feel they have some choices. Involving your child in buying their new school bag, letting them choose their pencil case, writing their name on their books can all help increase their excitement and sense of involvement. Starting school or a new class can be a huge change for a child, so the more we can infuse happy, loving, fun-filled feelings into the whole experience, the more likely it is that our enthusiasm will become infectious. And equally important, is for our child to know that we’re always tuning in to and willing to actively listen to and empathise with their whole range of feelings.
Fostering a positive relationship with the teacher. As your child’s attachment figure, you can do a lot to help them form a strong bond with their new teacher. (read more about this process of bridging that connection). We understand now, more than ever before, that the child’s emotional wellbeing and strong sense of trust, acceptance and belonging in their class and school forms the foundation for a positive learning experience and a healthy relationship to their learning. Do you know the new teacher? Can you find out a little bit about them- for instance, perhaps the new teacher is very sporty and you can talk about games they might play in school, or has long hair like mum or rides a bike like they like to, or is a parent themselves… Or while reading to your child: “I’ll bet your teacher has some great books that she’ll be reading out loud to you children in the class, do you think you’ll like to listen to a story with the other kids in your class?”
Talking about the new teacher and the school in general with a tone of warmth and fondness goes a long way to increase your child’s feelings of security and inclusion. Our children instinctively scan our responses to others. Your positive expectations can help your child feel more secure about their new relationship with their teacher and school in general. Can you visit the school and walk around now before they start? Do you know other children in your child’s class? Can you arrange play dates to strengthen the bond with one or two other children in their class? Be proactive in introducing yourself and your child to the teacher at the start of term and perhaps staying a bit longer in the mornings until your child gets engaged in the class activities.
Other little things that can make a big difference: Being there as soon as school ends can help your child’s sense of security. Get into the new bedtime and getting up rhythm before school starts and make sure that you get up early enough to allow the mornings to be more enjoyable than stressful. It’s generally hard for children of any age to separate from their parent in the morning if there’s been tensions and hard feelings between them before school. Some parents become more distant to discourage their child’s clinginess, but this generally has the opposite effect! In fact, some parents find that their child is so much happier and more confident heading into school (or daycare) when the parent has carved out even 10 or 15 minutes of quality one on one time in the morning where your child has your full attention and can choose an activity to do together. When saying goodbye, give your child a very heartfelt loving goodbye to fill up their love tank to get them through till they see you again later. The warmth you give your child in the mornings can fill them, surround them and help them stay strong when away from you.
Listening to their feelings gives them strength. If your child has fears or reservations about starting in the new school or new class, create some quiet time to really listen and let them air their concerns. Perhaps they can’t verbalise their feelings, but you see their fears reflected in their out of balance behaviour. Relating to and speaking to the imagined feelings that drive their behaviour can help them feel more secure again and bring their behaviour back to balance at the same time. Seeing that you’re taking their feelings seriously and working hard to help them feel supported and cared for will likely give your child strength and reassurance.
Don’t be afraid of your child’s fears. Fears and frustrations generally only lead to bigger problems when a child feels alone with them or feels judged for having these feelings. If your child tells you they’re afraid of the big kids in the playground or that they’re going to miss you too much and don’t want to be away from you, avoid dismissing their concerns or telling them that they should focus on the positive aspects of school, as this can feel overwhelming and cause little worries to turn into huge fears. Instead, show your child that you’re really listening and taking their concerns seriously, yet remaining confident about the whole experience yourself. Children receive our reassurances with more confidence when they are confident that we’re really caring about their concerns.
The power of play in resolving fears. Children instinctively chose the games that helps them resolve their fears, confusions and other feelings they’re trying to work through. Your child will likely naturally want to play “school” when going through this transition, or you may see them act out school type scenarios amongst their figurines in their play. You can also facilitate this process by suggesting to play school. Let your child chose the role they want to play and the scenario they want to enact, and through doing so they’re working through much in their psyche and emotional world. Kids make sense of their world through their play.
You might also find it helpful to read
Helping children adapt to an early childhood environment
Helping children adapt to change
read more about the healing power of play