‘… adjusting to life with school-aged kids represents a big step. It can be simultaneously challenging and exciting – for both you and your child. As a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. You play an integral role in supporting their adjustment to, and engagement in school, over the weeks, months and years ahead.’ Penny Gibson of Capacity Therapeutic Services shares her insights on supporting your child at times of transition and change. Xx
Settling into the start of a new school year represents mixed feelings for many families. Perhaps it’s your first time with a little preppy in tow or you are a returning customer (!) Regardless, adjusting to life with school-aged kids represents a big step. It can be simultaneously challenging and exciting – for both you and your child. As a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher. You play an integral role in supporting their adjustment to and engagement in school, over the weeks, months and years ahead.
The reality of change and embracing transitions
Much of the talk around transitions is wanting them to go ‘smoothly’. The reality of major changes in routine involves a great deal of unfamiliarity for children and families. Everyone will manage these things differently also. Of course, we all want periods of change to occur seamlessly, but the reality is that they very rarely do. That’s ok too! Children learn a sense of mastery and build their resilience when they successfully manage something difficult. As such, as their supporting adults, we need to try and balance familiarity with challenge. You can help your child to cope with change, by developing their social and emotional skills, and embracing transitions with optimism.
Your child may be transitioning from kinder to school, from Grade 1 to Grade 2, or to a new school. This might mean changes in relationships, new relationships formed, shifts in routine, the list goes on. Depending on your little person, he may seek you out for greater support or he may wish to build his independence and push you away.
It is totally normal as a parent, to experience mixed feelings in these situations! Not only is your baby growing up, but your identity is shifting again, too. Accompanying all this, will be moments of reflection. How well is he prepared? How will he fit in? How will he manage these new expectations? Just remember, you have been doing your best to prepare your child for these very transitions from the day he was born.
As best you can, expect the transitions to be ultimately successful and positive. Reflect on how your family has navigated change in the past. Your child is likely to have experienced one or many transitions. A changing family, moving house, travelling, or a parent returning to work. Keep in mind that adjustments take time. Your outward confidence in his ability to adapt well to change will influence his own coping confidence, and build his skills in managing new situations.
Emotional and social support
It’s quite normal for children to take some developmental steps backwards during times of change. Parents play the vital role in instilling the values and skills kids need, for times you’re not there to ‘buffer’. Specifically, the areas of independence, resilience and optimism are great places to start.
To develop your child’s ability in responding to instructions and boundaries at school, promote opportunities at home for your child to be responsible and do things for himself. Examples here include: setting the table for dinner, tidying up toys, washing his hands, or putting his dirty clothes in the laundry.
To encourage your child to feel optimistic about attending school, (as best you can), be positive when talking about it and demonstrate your respect for his teachers. If you hold any angst or concerns about how your child will manage, try to avoid him knowing it!
If you can demonstrate your own good work habits and show your child that you believe in his potential, he is absolutely more likely to achieve. Praise him for his effort and progress, talk about learning from mistakes and about persisting, when he finds something difficult. If he lacks confidence, encourage him to keep trying and sit alongside him for support. Children master skills based on what is modelled to them. Ok, I know that sounds daunting, but trust in you, too. After all, who could possibly know your child like you do? Families are a crucial source of love and support, especially during times of change, so plan for some quality time and don’t forget to have fun!
One other thing to note – you might start to notice a shift in your child relying on his friends more. This is normal for your child’s identity development and doesn’t mean he loves you any less! Being of school age represents a formative time of social development, and friendships are likely to be important to your child. You can teach friendship-building skills by encouraging him to introduce himself to new people and to join in play with others. Playing games as a family that teach sharing, cooperation, taking turns and dealing with disappointment is also an amazing way to model and help develop his skills.
Communication starts here
Transitions and change need communication among children, families and school staff, or those involved to develop new strategies to adjust. Show interest and support for your child’s learning by asking them about the day. You might like to be specific and ask “What was fun?”, “What did you find interesting?”, or “What happened at play time?” to generate discussion. Asking open questions can help kids who find it tricky to articulate at times.
Also, involving him in conversations can help him to learn about communication as a concept – taking turns to speak, active listening etc. Most schools will send out a newsletter each week detailing what the kids are learning in class or keep parents updated via apps like Seesaw. These tools are fantastic for you to initiate conversations around school with your child and find out how they’re coping with it all.
Some children do have a tough time settling into school. If, after a period of adjustment, your child seems reluctant or unhappy about going to school, please seek help. Share your concerns with your child’s teacher, the leadership staff, or wellbeing personnel and work on an action plan. It’s perfectly reasonable to have regular chats with your child’s teacher anyway, about how they are progressing. Most schools will have a contact number to call or diary system too, if you can’t meet in person. In my experience, if there’s concerns from the school’s perspective, they will most certainly reach out to you, too.
On the daily:
Adjusting to school routines is accompanied by the need to coordinate multiple, and sometimes conflicting, responsibilities. This can be super challenging with work schedules and other commitments. My tip is to plan as much as you can, in advance.
In the weeks after school starts, or even on the weekends, you could visit the school and walk around the yard, further familiarising your child with the new environment. You could also try and organise a couple of play dates with other kids from school. It’s a great way to solidify new relationships – for parents as much as children!
Regularly promote positivity. Whether it’s putting a little note in your child’s lunch box each day or using the trip to and from school to encourage conversation, it all helps. Taking turns sharing your best/worst moment from the day over dinner provides a great opportunity for positivity too.
Getting back to some level of routine during the school week can be helpful. Particularly after a big day at school, your child needs a good night’s sleep for his mind (and yours!) to refresh.
Finally, I hope these first weeks of settling into school are going well at your place. If you have any questions, please post them in the comments. Penny x
Originally published at WonderfulMama online magazine
*to avoid lots of he/she throughout, we chose to refer to he in this post. We hope it doesn’t make it too difficult to read if you’re a mama or papa of girls.