School is back – how are you coping?

Despite the seemingly endless school holidays, the first week of school has arrived with a bang and a feeling on unpreparedness! Emma McEnery shares some useful hints and tips to help your kids, and you, get Back to School and keep on track.

If you are anything like me, you may be feeling a mix of joy and sadness the kids are back to school. Joy because I am so over my older two bickering while I play judge, jury and executioner, and sadness because 6 weeks of chillaxing is now over.

My daughter had her bag packed and uniform laid out 2 days ago and made her lunch last night. On the other hand, my 7yr old son clutched on to his last bit of technology yesterday with dear life and then lost it with me this morning because I was sending him to school in his older sports shorts (as opposed to new ones the shop didn’t have in his size). No amount of cajoling or reasoning from me helped and we ended up in a stalemate until he got to school and saw his bestie.

It’s true, last week and this week, schools Australia wide are back. Teachers and principals have prepped lessons and laid out the strategy for the year. Children and parents have prepped uniforms, lunch boxes, pencil cases and shoes. Kindergarten, high school or in between, parents and kids alike are anxious, excited, nervous, happy, overwhelmed and lots of other emotions thrown into the mix.

I thought I’d share some useful tips that I’ve gathered over the last couple of years that might help you and your kids settle into the new school year.

Help for kids

  1. Set some goals – during the first few weeks reflect with older children on the last school year. Talk with them about the year, the highs and lows and ask them to recall what they learnt. This refocuses and motivates them to shift their frame of mind back to school and the classroom environment.
  2. Prepare them – read any literature the school provided during the open days, do a drive-by and trial drop-offs and pickups, talk about your funny memories of your first days. My son is naturally anxious, and we decided on a favourite matchbox car he could keep in his pocket and hold when he felt unsure.
  3. Encourage structure and responsibility – lay out what they need to bring to school and to after-school weekday activities. Put it somewhere visible as a point of reference. In our house, we have cork boards on the kitchen wall and I have recently ‘joined’ the Kiki K calendar club which sits on our fridge (all 5 of us have an individual column as well as a family one).
  4. Embrace your child’s interests – their wants and wishes as skills learnt in these sessions can be transformational for children and can help them build friendships. I would say that goes for us parents too. How can you not bond over a coffee on a freezing winter morning watching your daughter play netball?
  5. Prepare breakfast and lunches the night before – it saves time and you won’t feel like you are losing it the next morning and have the kids mimic your ‘come on, hurry up, we are late’ last-minute behaviours. A fellow working mum got me onto making lunches the night before. And while I don’t layout breakfast, it does only leave me with the fruit to cut in the morning.
  6. Have a homework strategy – In my book this is a biggie! Because although my son has academic challenges, he loves nothing better than a homework whinge! So, to avoid the whinge give your child some ownership over their homework. Let them pick when they are going to do it and plan it around friends and extracurricular activities. The beginning of the week works well for us. And if you are like me and don’t quite understand how they are being taught, ask the teachers for guidance.

Moving on from strategies helping kids, how can parents help themselves and each other?

I remember the trepidation I felt when my eldest started kindy. It was like I was going back to school! I distinctly remember trying to work out who to talk to, suss out the different ‘parent groups’ – the trendy ones, the sporty ones, the nerdy ones, the ones I could connect with… the same emotions I remember feeling as a kid.

Fast forward a few years and I have a great and diverse network of ‘parent’ friends. Yet it isn’t always that easy. Our school is small, and everyone congregates at the gates before pickup, so we have the opportunity to catch up.

But what If that’s not the case? What if you are a full time working parent who only has time for a quick kiss and go, or whose kids need to be in before school and after-school care? It’s about building those relationships differently and having strategies in place to help.

Help for parents:

  1. Be interested in what your child has to say – make time to listen to what they have done and who they have played with. Listen out for the same repeated names and send a note with your child to give to the other child. It can be the first point of contact between parents.  I found this great set of questions on www.herviewfromhome.com that might get you past the “okay” response!
  2. Value their friendship style and remember there are two sides to every story – whether they appear to have one friend or are socialising with several friends. We are all different, my son prefers to have 3 or 4 friends versus my daughter who has a big group of about 8 girls. It’s important to not be critical of friends when (and if) they have falls outs. It’s teaching them about human emotions and interactions and how the world works.
  3. Be a role model – It’s our job to teach our children the best way to interact with others, to talk and listen as needed, to empathise with others, share and take turns, although I admit I am still learning some of these as an adult (lol).
  4. Get your peace of mind from connecting with their teachers – try to make time for regular parent/teacher catch ups outside of the planned ones, even if it’s a quick 5 minutes at the end of the day now once every couple of weeks.
  5. Practice mindfulness to counteract any stress (big or small) – let go of your viewpoint of the world for a few minutes to look at it from your child’s point of view (regardless of their age).
  6. Focus on what your expectations are for your child and how you communicate those – write a list of age-appropriate chores they are expected to do, write a weekly dinner plan, cook for the week on weekends and get the kids involved.

At the end of the day, it’s about YOU and YOUR family – every family is different, with different dynamics and different ways of doing things. It’s easy to fall into the ‘keep up with the Jones’s’ scenario but it’s up to us to try things out and see how they go.  After all, isn’t that exactly what parenting is all about, finding our way through the dark.

As for my son and I, we left each other this morning ‘friends’ again.


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