Helping Your Child Prepare for the New School Year
Ah, the summer holidays… Weeks of fun in the sun, magical days out and opportunities for new memories to be made.
Or, as in my case, studying the BBC weather app to see if we can avoid the rain, politely encouraging my children not to spend all day wrestling each other and constantly managing the many requests for some sort of snack.
But as the summer holidays draw to a close and your sanity slowly reappears, your attention turns to the new school year and how best you can prepare your child for the year ahead.
Maybe your child is starting primary school for the first time? Maybe they’re setting off for the adventures of secondary education? Or maybe they’re simply starting in a new class in a new room with a new teacher. Whatever their situation, it can be a tricky time of year for them.
As parents we want to help them prepare for the new school year, but it can seem difficult to know where to start, even if this isn’t their first rodeo. So we’ve put together some top tips to help you.
Preparing your child for the new school year involves quite a lot of practical preparation. From ensuring they have the equipment and uniform they need, to practising the route to school, we can do a lot to help them feel ready for their new adventure in September.
It’s often the little things that can have a big impact. Turning up to school without the resources they need can give some children anxiety, as they worry they’ll get into trouble. Secondary schools can hand out detentions like card dealers in a Vegas casino, so it’s worth getting it right.
If your child will be travelling to school independently, practise the route with them. Go on the bus or get out your bike and do the journey to school during the holidays - preferably more than once. Their confidence will grow and the first day won’t feel so daunting.
If your child is older, heading into KS2 or KS3, chances are that additional learning at home will be required. Work together to see when you could do homework each week. In KS2, little and often works best, so why not look for a time when you could do 10/15 minutes each day?
In secondary school, the homework requirements certainly ramp up, so creating a plan for helping your child manage this is really helpful. Build in time for rest and relaxation too. Which clubs do they think they’ll join? Add those in too. A healthy balance of work, rest and play will stand them in good stead.
As much as practical preparations can do a lot to relieve any anxiety or worry your child might be feeling about the new school year, it’s emotional preparation that’s truly necessary.
If you take nothing else from this post, please take this. Communicating with your children during the year ahead is the most important thing you can possibly do to make it a successful year for them.
Why? Because knowing that they can talk to you can help nip any problems they’re experiencing in the bud. Any worries they have will surface more easily and you’ll be able to help them. Sitting down at the end of the day, around the dinner table or as you tuck them into bed, to discuss the day they’ve had, is a great way to keep lines of communication open.
Build it into your daily routine. Make it part of family time. Don’t pounce on them as soon as they come out of the school gates or walk through the door. Give them time to process the day they’ve had and then talk with them a couple of hours later.
It really can make all the difference.
Focus on the positives
When we’re anxious, our limiting beliefs can rear their ugly heads. Children are no exception. You may notice words such as ‘always’ and ‘never’ creeping into your child’s vocabulary.
It’s easy to try and dismiss their worries by telling them they’ll be fine, by suggesting that things will get easier as time moves on. While this is the case for the majority of children, they are feeling anxious now, so talking too much about how they might feel in a couple of months time, isn’t going to help.
Try focusing on the positives instead. What do they know from their past experience of school? What usually happens? If it’s their first day somewhere new, what could they do to find friends or find their way around? What strengths do they have? What have they done in similar situations that could help?
All of these things help build up the funds in their ‘strategy bank’ and will keep them feeling more positive about the weeks ahead.
Build a Range of Strategies
Ah, the strategy bank. You’ve already made a deposit with the work you’ve done on positivity, but what else could you put in? Any strategies deposited, will give you a great return on investment… okay, I’ll stop now!
But seriously, it’s great to have techniques for your child to use when they’re feeling anxious, so now’s the time to find the ones that work for them.
When faced with a new challenge, we can often feel as though they’re insurmountable. But, as that famous quote says, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. One strategy to adopt, therefore, is breaking down the year/term ahead into bite-sized chunks.
By focusing just on the first day and then the first week, you can keep your child focused on the immediate future, rather than letting them worry about what it means to be ‘in Year 6’ or ‘starting school’. Huge concepts that can be difficult to comprehend.
As well as eating the odd elephant, you can also work on meditation, breathing techniques, mindfulness and visualization. Using an app like Headspace can help– they have meditation for children as part of their subscription service.
Whatever strategies you choose, try to build them into a daily habit so that your child becomes confident to use them when things feel overwhelming. But, as with everything, less is often more. Try one or two first, rather than all of them.
An Attitude of Gratitude
In 2018, research from UCLA showed that practising regular gratitude actually changes the molecular structure of the brain, making people happier overall. And, quite frankly, who doesn’t want to be happier?
After reading this research, I decided to embark on a gratitude journey with my two children. I’d been keeping a gratitude journal myself for some months, but wondered what effect it might have on my boys.
At the end of each day, just before they go to sleep, we think of something they’re grateful for - even if they have had a tough day. It’s making a difference already, particularly with my eldest child who is about to embark on his adventures at secondary school. I share something with them from my day too.
On a similar thread, I also encourage them to think of something that’s gone well for them that day too. What successes have they had? Again, it trains the brain to look for the positives, improving our overall wellbeing. Occasionally we talk about things that didn’t go as well as they’d hoped, but we always finish with what we learned from it and what we could do next time.
Flip the negatives to positives and true personal growth occurs.
Validate their feelings
As parents, our initial response to a child in distress is to make them feel better. If faced with your child saying, ‘I’m terrible at maths’ – we tend to respond with, ‘Of course you’re not’ or, ‘Don’t be silly’ or, ‘Don’t worry, I was terrible at maths and I turned out okay.’
The trouble with these kinds of responses, as well meaning as they are, is that they don’t validate how your child is feeling. Instead of making them feel better, they feel dismissed. They feel as though you don’t really understand how they’re feeling at all. Quite the favourite statement of teenagers across the world…
So how can you make them feel as though you validate what they’re saying? How can you stop the, ‘You don’t understand me’ type comments and the stomping off?
Well, it’s actually not too complicated.
- Start by saying that you’re sorry they’re feeling that way.
- Name the emotions they are experiencing, e.g. using phrases such as, ‘I can see that’s upsetting you’ or ‘I can tell you’re feeling frustrated.’
Then the magic happens.
- You ask them to tell you a bit more.
- You remain silent – bite your lip if you have to.
- Let them have the space they need to vent.
- Don’t chip in with what it was like in your day. Don’t tell them what you think they should do.
- o Just listen.
Often, when telling you exactly how they feel, children calm down and begin to see things more rationally. Sometimes they need a bit more time, but almost always though, they find the solution themselves. They might ask you for your opinion or help, but if they don’t, leave it for another time.
Validate their feelings; let them know it’s okay to be upset. But most importantly, listen.
Giving your child a chance to develop greater self-confidence comes from enabling new friendships to build and grow. If your child feels nervous about making friends, talk with them about how to start conversations or join a group. It may sound simple to some of us, but it’s not a skill that everyone is born with.
Arrange play dates or trips to the park. Encourage your child to join an after-school club. If they’re older and heading off to secondary school, say ‘yes’ to the cinema trips and the sleepovers. It can be hard when your child finds a new level of independence, but it’s all part of growing up. Chances are you can remember the fun you had in your teenage years…
Friendships can stand the test of time and many are built during our school years. It’s not only the friendships we can celebrate, it’s the social skills they build and the confidence and happiness they can bring.
Preparing for the New School Year
The tips we’ve shared can seem overwhelming and, my goodness, you don’t need to try them all at once. Your child may not need them all anyway. But our biggest tip?
Talk to your child and keep those lines of communication open. It not only builds a strong bond between you and them, it also gives them the confidence to believe they can try and succeed at new things.
If I only I could succeed at keeping my children from raiding the fridge…but we can’t have everything!
The National Happiness Awards 2019
Do you have a happy child, do they bring that happiness to school with them? Are you a teacher who thinks they know who the happiest child in your school is? Why not nominate them in the National Happiness Awards 2019
Nominations are now open in the National Happiness Awards. There are 5 categories in the school section of the awards:
- Happiest Primary School Nomination
- Happiest Secondary School Nomination
- Happiest Child (primary) Nomination
- Happiest Young Person (secondary) Nomination
- Happiest School Employee Nomination