The first week of school
Prior to starting the new school year, ensure that your child is familiar with the school and the uniform. Many schools offer a ‘meet and greet’ opportunity in the year before, allowing them to meet their teacher and their new classmates – encourage your child to attend, and as parents you can participate too. Make sure your child has their correct school uniform and stationery supplies to ensure they are set for the day, and won’t be singled out in any way.
Walk your child to the classroom initially if that’s what they need from you, but discuss the plan thereafter, establishing when it would be ‘ok’ to leave them at the end of the corridor or at the car. Try to be a bit early to fetch your child during their first few days of school. If you’re running late send a message to their teacher or another parent to let your child know if you’ll be late or if there has been a change in plans. If your child attends aftercare, familiarise them with the environment beforehand so they know where to go, and what will be expected of them.
Because the new school year is stressful for parents too, ensure that you find ways to alleviate this stress. Make freezer dinners for the first week or two of the new school year – this will take the pressure off you, and allow you to spend time with your family in the evenings instead. The new school year often means a new year of work for parents, which is also stressful. Try as much as possible to manage your own stress to make this process easier for you and so as not to affect your child during this time.
Stick to a routine
Routines help to alleviate some anxiety as your child is always aware of what is expected of them – what time to be ready for school, the order in which to complete morning or afternoon/evening activities and when to go to bed. Go through this schedule ahead of time so your child knows what will transpire the following day. If there are any changes to a routine (because of your work, or your child’s school), let your child know as soon as possible. If plans do change on the day (as often happens), explain this to your child, and provide them with an alternative plan or solution so they are not left wondering throughout the day.
Prior to the school day there are a certain number of activities that need to be completed. Bags need to be packed for the day, lunch needs to be made and packed too. Children need to get dressed for school, eat breakfast and brush their teeth. As a family this routine can be established – different time frames for the above work for different people. If your child does not like to eat breakfast, send them with some extra food for the school day which they can eat before school starts or later on. If they choose not to eat because they’re anxious, find out what food they may like and buy that (even if it’s a sugary cereal – it’s something!)
After fetching your child from school they should be given some free time to play and perhaps have lunch or a snack if they haven’t eaten anything at school. This at least gives them a chance to have a break between school work and homework. Homework should ideally begin at the same time every day, depending on whether your child has other sport or extra-mural activities. It should also ideally be completed in one go, unless there is a lot to complete (then give your child a break in between). Depending on how long homework takes, there may be more time for your child to play afterwards, before having to bath or eat dinner. This process should be the same each day, but it’s up to each family whether they want their child to bath or eat dinner first. Your child should then have some time to wind down – whether that’s watching a television show with the family before getting into bed and having a story read to them (or time for them to read for themselves). Bedtime should be a set time during the week, and can be adjusted to later during the weekend. Ensure your child gets enough sleep (pre-school children require between 10 and 13 hours, while school aged children need between 9 and 11 hours).
In the case of divorced or separated parents ensure that there is commonality across the households (this applies always, but is of utmost importance at the start of a school year). Ensure both parents are on the same page with regard to rules about homework, school attendance, bedtime and dietary habits. Divorced or separated parents need to ideally put any of their differences aside to ensure that their child’s development and school experience is of optimal importance.
Communicate with your child’s teacher regarding expectations and requirements for the new school year. Ask him/her for additional help and support if your child is anxious – explain this to their teacher too. If you have the time, take part in any parent activities or groups relating to the school, and attend parent’s evenings or AGMs where you can. Offer to go on outings if you can, or take team members to a match at another school. However, ensure your involvement does not smother your child and their independence at school (as always, find a balance).
In the case of divorced or separated parents, ask your child’s teacher to ensure that both parents are included in any relevant communication about your child or the school day. Even though divorce can be difficult for parents, as mentioned, when it comes to your child, try to put differences aside and be ‘on board’ with their educational demands.
Get to know the parents of the children in your child’s class. This doesn’t mean you have to be friends with them, but have a relationship where you can arrange play dates or get hold of them for support or assistance at any stage during the school year.
Other ways to reduce stress
Apart from the aforementioned routines and tips to start the new school year, there are other methods that parents and families can use to make the new school year easier on the family as a whole.
Talk to your child about school and any concerns they have. Make a concerted effort (always, but especially during the first few weeks) to check in about their day. Ask them about their friends, teacher, and the school work. Get involved with their homework, or if you have a tutor to assist, or they complete homework at aftercare, check that their work is complete and that they’re on track. Make sure you know what your child is working on at all times.
Ask for a calendar, or make one with your child, marking various activities in the week and year. Have a calendar on the fridge which each member of the family can add to. Create and stock a homework spot – making sure to have all necessary stationery and equipment to make the homework process easier. Reduce distractions in this area.
If your child presents with significant anxiety you may need to provide them with external support such as play therapy with a psychologist. This will give them a space to work through their feelings. Encourage relaxation and practice breathing techniques with the whole family. Spend time outdoors where possible and limit screen time (tablets, television or computer).
The new school year can create significant anxiety and stress for families, but if routines are put in place and stress is managed in a healthy manner, this anxiety can be reduced and the process of starting the school year can be more manageable for children and their families.