This time of the year families across Australia and New Zealand are getting ready to go back to school. The hype of Christmas has come and gone and families are starting to think about a new routine. Shopping centres are filled with eager parents and carers shuttling their children between shoe shops, uniform shops and big chain stores. It can feel overwhelming, financially burdening, but also exciting and optimistic.
Over the next few weeks, parents and carers will be prepping and labelling 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 in between.
Like me, you may also be feeling that you’re at a turning point where all of your children will be at school and your life will start to take on some new meanings and freedoms.
We thought we’d share some useful tips to help you and your kids settle into the new school year. Whether you are a working parent or carer only having time to kiss and go, or whose kids need to be in before school and after-school care, or you can drop off and pick up – it’s about building a dialogue with your children and your support network.
Help for parents:
- 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.
- 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 few friends versus my daughter who has a bigger group. It’s important to not be critical of friends when (and if) they have falling outs. It’s teaching our children about human emotions and interactions and how the world works. Even as adults, friendships have their ups and downs.
- 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.
- Get 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 once every couple of weeks or half way through each term.
- 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).
- 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.
Help for kids
- Set some goals – during the first few weeks reflect with older children on the previous school year. Talk with them about the year they have had, the highs and lows and ask them to recall what they learnt. This refocuses and motivates them to shift their frame of mind from ‘holiday mode’ to back to the school and classroom environment. With children starting school, role play the school day routine
- 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.
- Encourage structure and responsibility – layout what they need to bring to school and to after-school activities the night before. Put important notices somewhere visible as a point of reference. In our house, we have cork boards on the kitchen wall and I have recently ‘joined’ the Kikki K family calendar club which sits on our fridge (all 5 of us have an individual column as well as a family one).
- 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 and carers too. How can you not bond over a coffee on a freezing winter morning watching your daughter play netball or son play soccer?
- 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’re 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.
- Have a homework strategy – this can be a heated debate between parents/carers and children! My son loves nothing more than a homework whinge! To avoid the whinge, give your child some ownership over their homework. Let them pick when they are going to do it, set a time within which to do it and plan it around friends and extracurricular activities. The beginning of the week works well for us. Some schools send homework at the end of the week, giving parents and children time to do it on the weekends. And if you are not quite sure how they are being taught or the best way to help them with it, ask the teachers for guidance.
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, as individual family units, 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.