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Top strategies for back to school transition

Traditionally back to school can be, for some children, a source of worry and anxiety and as parents we’re always seeking out the best strategies to help. Right now, we have a few weeks to guide all of our children through the transition from lockdown learning back to school. So what can we do to help may it easier.

The reality is, that while many kids are looking forward to returning to the classroom, eager to see friends, a playground to run in, sports and art lessons, there are many who may be fearful, with high levels of anxiety, and confusion about just how ‘big’ this change may be. From those who may have struggled with lockdown learning, to those who have loved being snuggled with family, to those who have lost a relative to COVID and are fearful of the illness. And a myriad of other potential reasons too.

Some of the common impacts on the lives of our kids in the past year have included a decrease in fitness levels due to the lack of sports and outdoor play. This also impacts how kids relate to one another, comradeship and team play having also been absent for much of the past 12 months. With many parents working from home, and reluctant to take anything else from the kids there has been a marked increase in both screen time and gaming. And of course that’s not even accounting for the fact that for many, lessons are entirely online too. So, the way kids have been learning, as well as playing, has been nearfield, using different parts of the brain, and different skills. On top of that, with parents working from home, zoom meetings galore and for some families different lunch hours to work around, mealtimes have become increasingly irregular in many households affecting both sleep and digestive patterns. That, coupled with the lack of school run, means many kids are going to bed later and waking later. In all, their routines are entirely out of whack.

Now that the news is out the kids will be back at school in a few weeks, you might notice that they may become more prone to meltdowns and mood changes, begin acting up being disagreeable, or for younger kids even becoming clingy and anxious. This can be frustrating for parents, but it’s important to remember that such forms of behaviour are often a sign that the child is struggling to deal with a deeper emotional conflict.  

As well as having to readjust to the structure and routine of ‘normal’ everyday life, your child may be worried about returning to their class and teacher, that their friendships may have suffered or that they may be ‘behind’ in their learning compared to their classmates. And after such an extended period of time with their family, they could also be worried about being separated from you and/or other family members.

And while we can’t necessarily prevent children from experiencing this back to school anxiety, we can make the transition easier by using a few ‘tools’ that will prepare them emotionally and help them to cope with the challenges that lie ahead.

(Re)Creating Routine

OK, so we don’t have long to ready ourselves and the kids so, first and foremost, we need to bring back a routine and structure that will aid their transition.

Why not try to bring the kids into the planning, giving them ownership of the new routine. This will help them accept, understand, and therefore be less fearful of, the changes ahead.

Work together to identify and agree on your new, workable routine and with your child create an easy-to-reach and read chart for everyone to refer to. Make the schedule the ‘boss’ so the child can own their routine and so conflict is removed from the rules.

Empathy and Validation

The most important thing you can do to help your child cope with back to school anxiety is to encourage them to open up and express any worries or fears that they may have. Children will open up if they feel that they are being heard, so whatever the source of their anxiety may be, it’s important to validate their feelings – first by empathising with them and then by encouraging them to express their emotions and talk about what’s bothering them.

Don’t fall into the trap of immediately reassuring them if they have a worry. For example, if your child is worried about their friendships, prevent yourself – however tempting it is – from saying things such as “Your friends all adore you, you have nothing to worry about”. Instead, try empathising with their feelings, showing them you understand their fears. Using Active Listening will bear greater results in helping reduce your child’s anxiety than if you try to ‘fix’ their worries.  (see below).

Active Listening

Once you have validated your child’s feelings, you can then actively listen to them.

Simply repeat what they are telling you (word for word or in your own words). If they are sharing a story about something which is affecting or worrying them, try to name the feeling they are expressing to show them that you understand them, and are listening. Once you have shown your child that you have heard them, and understood them, the child’s anxiety will often be reduced. If they have voiced a concern, try asking them: ‘What are you going to do about it?’, or ‘What could you do about it?’. This empowers them to come up with their own solutions, working through the situation in their heads, visualising outcomes, and processing the situation better.

Setting Positive Intentions

Using positive affirmations daily will help your child (and you) adjust and prepare for the transition. By using affirmations first thing each day, your child will find that their self-belief is strengthened, and resolve stronger. Work with your child to understand their areas of concern and create simple affirmations or mantras to help reset your child’s thinking. For example, if they are worried that they may have fallen behind, affirmations such as ‘I am strong and I believe in my ability to learn’, ‘I am optimistic and I make the most of every day’, and ‘I am brave and rise to any challenge’ will help them develop a greater sense of ownership and belief in their ability to succeed, helping them develop an inner voice that is strong and positive.

Family Meetings

Family Meetings are a really effective way of re-establishing a child’s sense of security, and a chance for family members to unite in a spirit of togetherness and realign your expectations of one another. Schedule in some special family time to allow family members to express anything that may be bothering them and to discuss plans and expectations for return to school and the remainder of the school year. Planning ahead in this way makes the transition so much easier for the children as they feel more prepared and will be better able to deal with the challenges ahead.

And don’t forget…

Now’s the time to have a quick try on of uniform and shoes, and get ordering anything that’s needed before it’s too late, especially as the postal service is still not running to usual capacity in many areas.

The Happy Confident Company develops tools and strategies for families to help children become emotionally stronger, have a greater sense of self-belief, increased optimism and reduced anxiety.

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