Are you aware that returning to school after Term 1 or Term 2, or even Term 3 can be more daunting, for some students, than starting a new school year? It’s true for many reasons, but that first day of the school year seems to get all of our attention.

For some children, going back to school after a couple of weeks of laid-back school holidays where they were perhaps on ‘beach time’, or ‘snow time’, can fill them with optimism and excitement, looking forward to seeing their schoolmates and immersing themselves in their favourite subjects. These students are well relaxed and fresh and feel ready to take on the world.

But for others, no amount of holidays help. It’s these children who may feel overwhelmed and filled with anxiety. Returning to school may illicit, for them, a sense of intrepidation.

Secondary students, as much as primary aged students can feel the brunt of the burn and feel challenged to front up. It all depends on how well a child is coping with all the adjustments going on in their lives, both at home and at school. How well they are coping with each subject? Have they encountered any form of bullying? How well they are forming relationships with teachers and their cohort.

With the rise of younger children having access to the Internet and social media via their phones, the risks of anxiety can increase, especially for secondary students; however, it is not unusual these days, for primary-aged children to have access to mobile devices.

It’s normal for any child to feel a little nervous when returning to school after a break. We all know adults can find themselves in the same boat and it can take us by surprise. So, it shouldn’t surprise us to find out it is no different for a child. Even the most resilient child can suffer.

Debbie has been an early years and primary educator for over 30 years and has some tips to share to help make your child’s return to school a little more smooth sailing.

Top Tips

1. Attitude

  • Check your own attitude.
  • Ask yourself how you feel about the school your child attends and the teacher who is spending most of the day with them.
  • It’s possible you may have attended parent-teacher interviews at the end of Term 3, so are you feeling confident your child is progressing well?
  • Are you confident with the teacher’s preparation, content and delivery of lessons?
  • What about the other students in your child’s class?
  • Are you experiencing any apprehension or negativity?
  • Are Chinese Whispers wafting around the car park, the playgroup or other meeting places parents gather?
  • If you’re experiencing any feelings of anxiety yourself, your child WILL pick up on it and they will run with it, metaphorically speaking.

We understand and accept that where humans are involved, we will encounter problems, but how we carry ourselves when dealing with our issues, is what we model to our children.

  • Be open and communicative with your child’s school and their teacher. Address any issues directly. Remember, there is power in our words so speak purposefully and act positively.

2. Be Mindful

  • Listen, Observe & Act. So … how is your child doing this year?
  • If you feel your intuition kick in, take heed. It will most likely nag you until you do.
  • Check with their teacher.
  • Listen carefully when attending the parent-teacher interview.
  • Don’t read between the lines on their report card; ask the teacher to clarify anything you don’t understand.
  • Get referrals if your child should need assessment.
  • It really pays to act quickly to get an understanding of where your child is truly at academically, socially, and emotionally throughout the year.
  • Keep your finger on the pulse, listen, watch then act.
  • Work out a plan, with the help of their teacher and your child, to support their learning.
  • Whatever you do, don’t make excuses – find solutions.
  • If your child is really struggling, then seek out help. Ask their teacher for assistance, recommendations for sourcing reputable tutors or websites who stock resources.

There are lots of resources on the web and places like our favourite go-to place for help, Shadytree Books who offer tutoring to support, scaffold and teach strategies to children experiencing English, language or literacy learning difficulties. Shadytree Books offers private tuition, customised to suit each student’s learning style, including games and activities to help consolidate ideas and skills.

3. Get Specific

  • Avoid asking your child general questions.
  • Ask your child specific questions about: the areas of learning they are experiencing, their friends, what the latest and greatest is, etc, all year long.
  • Teach them to answer appropriately and directly. Do not accept grunting or, “I don’t know.”
  • Reword your own questions to them to engage thinking.
  • Instil a level of acceptance, an expectation, in all areas of your child’s life.
  • Teach them early on about showing respect to you, their teachers and then when they approach the more challenging years, the expectations and acceptance are ingrained. This is training and it takes time, so exercise patience and perseverance.
  • Active listening/participation: Story at bedtime or reading comprehension homework. Avoid asking general questions like, “What did you think of Sarah’s story?” They may invariably answer, “It was ok.” Or “It was good.” These answers are mindless and calorie free. Don’t accept this answer.
  • Asking general questions after an activity can sometimes lead to lazy answers. Try prompting your child with a couple of possible questions BEFORE the activity; they will be more inclined to be active listeners and observers.

You may start thinking now!

  • Try: “From the expression on your face, it looked like you enjoyed Sarah’s story. Do you think the main character’s dialogue was believable? If so, how?” or “What could Sarah do to add tension to the paragraph about the bank robbery?”
  • Higher order questioning encourages higher order thinking. It takes practice but can help your child develop confidence both at school and socially because they become active listeners and thinkers.

4. Teach Your Child to be an Optimist

  • Ideally, begin teaching optimism before your child goes to school, but remember, it’s an ongoing journey.
  • Patiently investing in your child’s life by teaching this mindset and skill will pay off big time down the track.
  • Use every encountered problem as a learning opportunity. Wait for calm to be restored before attempting to teach.
  • Always speak using kind words.
  • Teach your child the power of positivity and how changing their mindset can lead to a positive can-do attitude.
  • Learning to see the good in every situation allows your child to feel a sense of control over situations, and when needed, the courage to face their fears.
  • The more they practice this, the more reference points they have to navigate future issues.

5. Set Routines

  • Get your child to take some control over planning and making their lunches. It’s a great opportunity to practice making decisions.
  • Start a week early to practice morning and afternoon routines like waking up earlier, and going to bed at regular times. It’s important to stick to routines as much as possible and allow more time if you notice your child is nervous.
  • Talk your child through the logistics of getting to their classroom.
  • Run through the classroom diary and timetable, check notes to make sure you are aware of upcoming events, library and sports days, and help your child pack their school bag the night before.
  • Allow some extra time on day one to help settle your petal.

6. Set Achievable Goals

  • Through the holidays, teach and help children set goals for themselves.
  • Break everything down into small steps towards goals help children stay on track.
  • Use stickers and charts to help keep children motivated and focused.
  • Accomplishing goals gives children (and adults) a sense of fulfilment and a sense they can complete tasks or overcome obstacles.
  • Goal setting can be applied for tasks, strategies to help learn or overcome problems that create anxiety.

7. The Importance of Friends

  • Staying in contact with friends over the holidays can help ease the burden or feelings of isolation that holidays can sometimes bring.
  • One or two playdates can make a difference.
  • Organise a couple of outings your child can do with a friend.
  • When your child has a friend or friends over to play, you can capitalise on the opportunity to observe how they interact and play with others and can strengthen budding friendships.
  • Encourage your child to make friends outside of school.
  • Being part of extracurricular activities, hobbies or sports can sometimes help children mix with like-minded children.
  • Engage the teacher to help encourage and gently guide friendship opportunities if you know your child is experiencing difficulties in this area.

8. Practice Gratitude

  • Finding ways to help children notice more deeply what they have received and been blessed with is an important place to start.
  • Help them to find ways to understand and make some sense of the gifts, via their thoughts and feelings is key to experience gratitude more purposefully.
  • Children need to first notice what they have been given in their life, a home to live in, parents who love them, the love behind the things they are given, what drives someone to gift them something, that someone doing something for them, is a gift, like Mum making dinner, or washing their clothes.
  • Children need to grow awareness for why they receive the gifts they have.
  • When children (or adults) experience difficult or stressful events in their lives, practising gratitude can be a helpful strategy that takes the focus of negativity and places it directly on the positive.
  • Understanding gratitude and how it makes us feel is greatly important. Knowing how to express thanks and maybe learning to pay it forward is a wonderful way to demonstrate both sides of friendship and love.