Summer is winding down and before you know it, the leaves will be changing colour, the days will be getting shorter, and many will be returning to school (or starting for the first time!). This can be a very exciting time but it can also be fraught with worry, apprehension, and anxiety.
As a parent, many questions may have been dominating your thoughts as the first day of school approaches. For example, will my child make friends, will my child like his/her teachers, will he/she get enough attention, will my child adjust well? With so many things to think about, you are probably wishing that summer could last a little longer!
Discuss “fun” parts of being in school and open the lines of communication. Ask you child how his/her day was.
For your child, excitement is likely mixed with a dose of apprehension and worry. For some children, the transition is easy, while for others, back to school can be highly stressful.
As a parent, you want to ensure that your child is ready to face the new school year. What can you do to ensure a smooth transition? Here are some helpful hints:
1) Start your “school night” routine before school actually starts
Having a school night routine can be helpful because it allows children to cue in to the fact that it is time to wind down and eventually go to bed. A good night’s rest is important for your children to be able to remain alert and focused during the day. It will also help improve learning. Waiting until the night before school begins to change up your routine can be stressful for both parents and children, as you may be faced with resistance. Preparing in advance can help with easing into an earlier bedtime and routine.
2) Pack a nutritious lunch
In addition to a good night’s rest, a well-balanced breakfast and lunch are also important to help your child get through the day. Nutritious food helps fuel the body and the mind, thereby increasing your child’s chances of a successful and productive day.
3) Get to know the teachers
It is best if you get to know your child’s teachers early in the year. Asking questions about the curriculum, teaching style and addressing concerns early in the year can help clarify any questions or concerns that you might have and ease your worries. It is also helpful to speak with teachers, support staff and administration about any unique needs that your child might have.
4) Do homework with your child, not for your child
Parents want to help their children with homework, but sometimes, as children struggle, it is easy to get in the habit of doing their work for them. Although this might help ease frustration and time spent on challenging tasks, it can also have some drawbacks. For example, your children’s teachers may think that they are on track and doing well. However, when it comes time to be tested, your children may show signs of struggle. Rather, bring up your concerns with your child’s teacher so that he/she can begin to address the concerns before it is time to get tested.
5) Check your child’s agenda or note folders every day
Teachers often communicate with parents by sending home notices and important papers to be signed. Checking on a daily basis will keep you up-to-date with your child’s progress and you will know what homework and special projects they might have coming up.
6) Get to know other parents
Other parents can be a good resource and source of information. Parent information night can be a good time to make some contacts. Remember, if this is the first time that your child is attending school, there are other parents in the same situation. Don’t be shy to ask other parents for advice and learn from their experience.
7) Reduce extra-curricular activities
It is important that your child have a good balance between extra-curricular activities and school demands. When children’s schedules are packed, this can lead to fatigue and feelings of being overwhelmed, which can impact their academic performance. Think about having your child participate in one extra hobby mixed with a few days of relaxation at home.
8) Look for signs of anxiety
Some children might experience anxiety or worry when it comes to back to school. It is important to look for signs of anxiety so that you can deal with it early on. Many children have difficulties telling their parents that they are worried or scared. Also, for most children, anxiety often expresses itself as physical symptoms. Some examples of things to look out for are: frequent headaches, stomache aches, increased tantrums, and irritability. If left untreated, these symptoms can worsen overtime and lead to a more serious outcome such as school refusal.
School refusal occurs when children repeatedly refuse to go to school or cannot stay in school. It can be triggered by troubles with peers, worry about performance or fear that something might happen to the child’s parents. If left untreated, it can lead to significant social and academic challenges1.
To help your child through this, it can be helpful to seek an assessment from a mental health professional, speak to your child’s teachers and school support staff, and keep your child in school (so as not reinforce your child’s fear and anxiety).1
9) Discuss concerns with your children
You or your child’s teachers might notice behavioural changes in your child. If you notice that your child isn’t acting his/her usual self, it is important to talk about this with your child. Let your child know that you are concerned, tell them what you are concerned about, and make it clear that they can talk to you. Sometimes, it is hard for kids to bring things up and they may need some help verbalizing what is wrong. Opening the lines of communication is important. You can start by asking how your child’s day was!
10) Discuss “fun” parts of being in school
It is important that children learn to recognize the “fun” parts of being in school. These can include spending time with friends, making new friends, field trips, and learning new things. It is always easy to focus on the areas where we struggle or the things that we don’t like. Encouraging your child to see the “fun” side of school can teach them that every situation has a positive side to it!
11) Tackle learning difficulties early
You might start to notice that your child is struggling academically. Some areas of struggle include, difficulties retaining information, trouble concentrating or paying attention, reading, writing, and arithmetic. Some children may struggle with expressing themselves orally, listening, impulsivity, and organization/time management2.
The presence of these symptoms does not necessarily signify the presence of a learning disorder. However, if you are concerned, speak to your child’s teachers, support staff and school administration. It can also be helpful to seek a psychological assessment to determine whether your child might have a learning related disorder and/or social/emotional/behavioural difficulties.
A psychoeducational assessment will determine your child’s pattern of strengths, challenges and behaviours, thereby increasing understanding and insight for you, your child and his/her academic environment.
It is important to know that under Canadian law, only medical doctors and psychologists can diagnose mental health disorders. So if you would like to know whether you child might have a specific diagnostic condition, a Saterra psychologist would conduct a thorough assessment.
If you have any questions about how to make a smooth transition to school, or you have specific concerns about your child’s behaviour or academic performance, please feel free to call one of our Saterra associates. We are happy to help. We can be reached at (613) 831-8181. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
1 Anxiety Disorders Association of America. School Refusal. https://www.adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/children/school-refusal
2 What are indicators of learning disabilities. National Institue of Child Health and human development. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/learning/conditioninfo/pages/symptoms.aspx