By: Linda Bresgi (Intern Educational Psychologist)
On Wednesday 13th January, Ububele’s Pre School was a hive of activity as 50 young children arrived to begin the new school year. Most of the children were excited and enthusiastic to be back after the December holiday but a few new children needed a little more reassurance before settling. For a young child, adjusting to a new school often takes a while. Even moving to a new class means facing increased academic demands, a new teacher and a changing social circle.
Some children settle more easily than others, and if you find your child is a little unsettled, you may find the following simple seven recommendations helpful:
- Prepare your child in advance. Start conversations about beginning school or moving to the next grade at school:
It may help prepare your child for the year ahead if you mark school days on a special calendar. That way your child will have a sense of when school begins and which days they will be going. If your child is a little nervous, explain what to expect. Give him as many details as you can about what happens during a typical day. For example, children draw and paint, play outside, sing, and look at books. Be positive, but also warn them gently that they may get tired or find certain things difficult. If they have any problems or feel sad encourage them to tell their teacher or their parent when they return home.
- Get your child back on an early to bed schedule well before school starts:
Most children get used to staying up late over the long December holidays. However, children need about 9 ½ to 11 hours of sleep a night, depending on their age. A child who is tired will be more prone to frustration, stress and tantrums. Getting them back on schedule so they’re sound asleep by 8pm to be up at 6am for school takes a couple of days of gradually moving the bedtime earlier. It is not a good idea to impose an early bedtime the night before school starts, as this may increase anxieties in both children and parents. Try to wake up a little earlier to arrive at school so you have enough time for meaningful goodbyes. Oh, and don’t forget that special ‘First Day of School’ photograph before leaving home!
- Make sure your child is familiar with the school:
Children like what is predictable, because it makes them feel safe and they may feel anxious if they do not know what to expect. Try and visit the school before school begins so that your child is already familiar with the teacher, school and playground. If she was at the same school last year that will help ease her worries, but nerves may still kick in and it is advisable that you chat about the school routine and any differences that she may encounter during the year.
- Separation anxiety:
Separation anxiety is common when starting school for both parents and children. It’s quite traumatic saying goodbye to an unhappy child. If your child does not want to separate from you, spend a little time with him in the classroom before leaving. For some parents it is difficult to leave a crying child with a teacher and you may be tempted to sneak off when your child is distracted. Always make sure you say ‘good bye’! It is important not to make endings something to avoid, as this impacts on how children will be able to cope with future endings or losses. Make sure that your child knows that you, or whoever is dropping them off, will come back. When you leave, tell your child where you are going and reassure him that they will not be forgotten and they will be thought about during the day and fetched later. If someone else is collecting your child from school, it is important that they know who this is and has met the person beforehand.
- Happy children still have meltdowns:
Do not be alarmed if your seemingly happy child has an uncharacteristic meltdown during the first week of school. Chalk it up to stress, don’t be hard on them, and be sure to be there to talk about their big feelings so that they don’t have to resort to tantrums and acting out. It is always helpful when mom and dad can give a name to the confusing feelings that are going on inside of their little one.
- Toilet time:
It is common – and often embarrassing – for small children to wet themselves at school, especially in the first few weeks. Children often don’t like using the school toilets or they become so involved with their play that they hold it in until it’s too late. It is advisable to pack your child a change of clothing to avoid any humiliation, should this happen.
- Bonding with the teacher:
Remember that your child is still young and it is essential that she is happy at school. If you notice after the first week of school that your child hasn’t settled, don’t hesitate to contact the teacher. Explain that your child doesn’t seem to have settled in yet. Perhaps the teacher is unaware of this and needs to make a special effort to reach out so that your child is able to connect with the teacher and feel at home. Most teachers understand this issue and will pay extra attention to your child during that first week if you make a warm request.
The social, emotional and academic development of children is an incredible process. Give yourself permission to trust your instincts as a parent. Ububele hopes that 2016 is a happy and meaningful year for you and your children.