Back to school survival guide

Beginning a new school year, especially if it is for the first time, is exciting but it does come with some anxiety too. To make sure everyone is as confident and prepared as they can be, here are some great, practical things to put into practise.

  • Giving kids confidence
  • Hugs and hope
  • Lots of talk – ‘unpacking’ the day
  • Helping children make and keep friends
  • Setting routines and good habits
  • Dealing with common anxieties
  • Keeping learning at home fun

Giving kids confidence

Children gather confidence through watching their parents manage life and solve problems. When they see you handle a challenge without getting flustered or annoyed, but rather tackling it with calmness, it is a powerful example. Imagine something breaks at home. If your kids see you being optimistic about a good outcome, maybe having a go at fixing it or asking for help, they see a positive pattern for how to handle life’s inevitable challenges. Alternatively, if you express helplessness or frustration, your children may follow suit.

It is good to sometimes hold back from solving every one of your children’s problems. When you choose not to rescue them and instead, show confidence in their ability to solve their own problems, they begin to feel capable. This means letting your children do things for themselves, even when you know you could do a better or more thorough job yourself. Another important message to send children is that mistakes are part of life – they are inevitable and it is better to make a mistake than to not take a risk. When you intentionally send the message, “You can give this a go, and if you make a mistake, it’s not a big deal – we learn from our mistakes,” you set your children up for success.

Hugs and hope

There’s something wonderful about a warm hug that says to a child, “I love you, I am thinking of you and have an awesome day!” Metaphorically, you are packing their school bag with love and support for them to draw on during the day. Getting ready for school in the morning can be fraught with tension but if you can ensure that you send your children off with warmth and love, they will thrive. A great message for a child to have tucked away is,“ I can manage today because I am loved and someone believes in me.”

Lots of talk

Children love to know what is coming up and what something will look and feel like. Chatting casually about what to anticipate helps a child form ideas and pictures about what to expect. As a parent, you can talk about what is likely to happen in a day, like eating morning tea, and choosing who to sit next to. You could mention the teacher’s name and a few of the other children’s names as well. Anticipate the things your kids might worry about. For example, what they might do if they find themselves without a friend or needing some assistance. A simple little game that children love is, “What would you do if…” In a fun way, you can make up some likely (and some funny) scenarios that your children might face. It gives them a rehearsal of what to do when facing a dilemma. “What would you do if you lost your shoe?” “What would you do if you forgot your library book?” “What would you do if your teacher said you could do anything you liked for the rest of the day?”

Asking great questions is also a useful way to get children talking. The most frequently used questions tend to be, “How was school today?”, “Who did you play with?” and, “What did you do today?” Some keen children will answer these, but lots of kids will respond with something like, “It was okay,” or, “I can’t remember.” It is important not to make this time an inquisition or even a teaching time. A couple of alternative questions are, “What was the best part of your day today?” and, “What was your least favourite part?” If you keep the questions fun and light, your kids will enjoy participating. The key to get more out of children is to say less. When a parent nods and says, “Tell me more” it often draws more information out of a child. As your children share snippets of their day, use this time to add anything helpful they might have missed or misinterpreted.

Helping children make and keep friends

Most parents are anxious about this one. It helps if you keep in mind that children do not always have the same need for friendships as adults do. Some children are very happy pottering on their own or with just one or two friends. The key is to help your kids with some simple friendship skills to increase their confidence and resilience. You can coach your children on how to join a group or ask other children if they can play. All children need is a script and an upbeat tone – “Hi there, can I join in and play?”

Some children are less socially aware than others and don’t carry the ‘software’ for knowing what makes an enjoyable experience for those they are playing with. These children can be shown how to be a good friend. Some of the important things to teach them are to be friendly and to say ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘how are you?’ Children need to understand that they cannot be the boss all the time. They need to let others have ideas, wait to take turns, and keep the rules. It’s important to teach your kids about personal space too – that others don’t like their space invaded, and that leaving enough room between them and their friends is a pretty good idea.

Setting routines and good habits

Organisation takes time and effort but it makes a big difference and really pays off.

The night before school

  • Lay out clothes nicely for the next day
  • Make lunches or have them ready to assemble
  • Read books, sign homework and collect notices
  • Pack bags with togs, library books, sports equipment etc.

On the day

  • Everyone wakes up in time to get ready – an extra 10 minutes makes all the difference!
  • Keep television and screens off in the morning
  • Have a list of four to eight tasks the children are responsible for, depending on their age. For example, making the bed, getting dressed, eating breakfast, packing their bag, doing their teeth etc.
  • Eat breakfast together as a family, when possible
  • Give the children a kiss and hug as they leave home and have everyone wish each other a lovely day

Helping out with anxiety

Some children get anxious about school. They find leaving a parent or caregiver difficult and upsetting. Make a plan and let your child choose whether they are going to wave or blow a kiss as you depart – this will give them some sense of control. Other questions and concerns that can cause anxiety, include –

  • Who will I play with?
  • What if I get growled at?
  • What if I make a mistake?
  • Who is picking me up?
  • What if I don’t know what to do?

Lots of these concerns can be talked about as they crop up. Simply welcoming your kids to share stuff they are bothered about can encourage them to talk. Be proactive and say to your child, “I am here to listen and talk about anything you might be worried about. Let me know if you are concerned and I will help.” There may be times when it is appropriate to talk to the teacher about problems. Your children need you to be their advocate.

An important message that children (and many adults) need to learn is that worries can be told to wait. Send the message that while you are open to talk about anything, some things can wait until later in the day or even the next day. You may need to make the call on when it is time to contain the worry, instead of solving it on the spot.

Keeping learning at home fun

Naturally, parents want to do their best for their children and give them all the help they need to thrive and achieve at school. What works well is keeping the learning fun. The moment your child feels that reading to you is a test or there is pressure to perform, the fun can disappear. Many children will be reluctant learners if they feel too much tension, and if they are constantly on the receiving end of too much correction. Keeping it fun means adding some playfulness to the learning. This can look like taking turns to each read one page of the book, leaving out a word and getting your child to guess what it is, or even inserting a wrong word to see if your child notices.

When it comes to homework, timing is everything. Children need a break when they arrive home from school. They need afternoon tea, time to unwind and then, after some play, it is time for homework. If your children are too tired, postpone the reading until the morning.Children love to be in the midst of things, so it’s worth choosing a homework spot that is not isolated. If you’re nearby or doing something alongside your children, they will be easily persuaded to get stuck into their work. Doing homework in the same place each day, i.e. at the dining room table, formalises the activity with a time, a place and a setting. Some children are motivated knowing that after their homework is done, they can choose something else they would like to do.

Parents sometimes need to remember that they are not the ones doing the homework. Offering to help if it is needed is fine, but doing the work for your kids so it looks good, is not setting them up for their own success and sense of achievement. Opportunities to learn are everywhere. Following your child’s interests can bring out the most wonderful discussions and learning because kids are curious to learn about things they find fascinating. They may pick up a dead monarch butterfly on the way home and, before you know it, they are asking questions, reading about life cycles and wanting to get their own swan plant.

Children pick up excitement and optimism when parents talk about school in a positive light. Your confidence is infectious. When children have love, support and the sense that they will do just fine, school can be a wonderful time in their life.

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About Author

Jenny Hale

Jenny Hale is our Senior Family Coach and we’ve been lucky enough to have her on our team for 19 years now. Once upon a time, Jenny was a teacher. These days, she spends her time supporting our team of Family Coaches, training new ones, and travelling around the country talking in preschools, schools and churches. She loves working with families and helping them find solutions to the challenges they face with behaviour and parenting. Jenny has been married to Stuart for 40 years and adores being a grandma to her grandkids (who live just 1km away). She needs a support group so she can stop buying books for them. She’d love to raise free-range chickens, write children’s books and perhaps even take up horse-riding again.

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