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Back to school

How you can help your child navigate a new school year.
Boy giving thumbs up
Posted January 26, 2012

We often express surprise at how ‘adaptable’ our kids are. But children can feel stressed too, and often lack the language to express it. Instead, they may internalise these feelings so it affects them physically, through illnesses like repeated colds, head and stomach aches, or changes in behaviour. If we know the signs, we can find positive solutions to help children manage stress.

Our children learn by example, and the new school year can be stressful for everyone. As parents, we’re facing financial costs and renewed busyness; while the kids are facing new classmates, teachers, and even schools. If we are stressed out, our children will learn to feel stressed and anxious too. So, perhaps the best way to teach our children stress management, is to manage these stressors ourselves.

Learn how to communicate possible stressors in a positive way. For example, instead of saying ‘we can’t afford all this gear for school,’ talk positively about what can be purchased within the budget, and let your child choose a couple of special items themselves.

Here are some other tips for focusing on the positive, to manage back-to-school stress:

Talk about it: Ask your children (individually) how they are feeling about the new school year. Don’t dismiss their feelings, and make sure they know that you understand. It can be helpful to share how you felt at their age, and how you managed any stressful situations. Talk through their anxieties, and move on to finding possible solutions. Thinking about ways to deal with bullies or making new friends, for example, will help your child feel more confident. Then discuss the positive things about school, like seeing their friends again and the fact that they’re growing up (always exciting!).

Practise it: Visit the school and classroom before school starts, so that your child feels confident about where to go on their first day. If you know any other kids that will be in your child’s year or classroom, it can also be a great idea to get together over the holidays—that way they’ll both have a familiar face on their first day of school. A couple of weeks before term starts, begin getting the kids back into their school routine of going to bed, getting up and having breakfast, to ease the transition.

Buy it: You don’t have to buy all the latest gadgets, but preparing for school with a special shopping trip can be fun. Let your child choose a couple of inexpensive special items to get them excited about starting the school year.

By Ingrid Barratt (abridged from War Cry, 28 January 2012, p10)