For Parents with children in school or just starting school, things may not be as they seem with your students.
Back to school – three words that can strike fear into many kids’ hearts! Mostly, this is just down to the contrast of school against the glorious summer vacation, but there may be times when your children have genuine back-to-school anxieties.
Sometimes it’s because they’re moving up to elementary, middle, or high school. Sometimes it’s because a favorite teacher or a best friend left. As well as talking to your kids and being available with a shoulder to cry on, there are plenty of great ways to help your kids adjust to going back to school in a relaxed and calm way.
Why is preparing your child for going back to school so important?
With school closures and health risks in recent years, there’s more anxiety than ever surrounding going back to school for kids of all ages. In September 2021, CNN reported that more kids than ever were bringing “pandemic stress” into school, anxieties caused by isolation, or fears surrounding the potential dangers of COVID-19. Adding this to existing school-transition stress creates a situation where kids might not know how to regulate their emotions or express how they’re feeling.
Taking the time and effort to help your kids prepare for going back to school gives them the resilience to deal with the unexpected.
Back to School Essentials for Calm Kids
We’ve picked four ways you can support your children and boost their ability to deal with their first days back in school and beyond.
Feed their Minds
Nutrition plays such an important role in mood. Eating candy or sugary snacks all day can lead to energy level fluctuations – although the oft-repeated maxim that sugar causes hyperactivity is a total myth. Kids who can’t get enough sweets are probably chasing a dopamine rush, a brain chemical linked to feelings of happiness. Conversely, focusing solely on savory foods can bring too much salt into their diet. It’s all about balance!
• Listen when your kids say they don’t like something – their taste is still evolving and may continue to do so throughout their whole life.
• Offer a good range of fruits and veggies at every meal if possible.
• Consider complex carbs for slow-release energy, such as oatmeal, whole grain bread, rice, and pasta.
• Let your kids help with the shopping or meal planning – they’ll be more engaged if they know they’re eating what they chose!
Practice Good Sleep Hygiene
All parents know that sleep can be a challenge – at any age! Teenagers may start going to bed later. Kindergarten kids moving up into elementary school may only just be breaking out of the habit of having a nap. Help kids by getting them into a good nighttime routine to support great sleep hygiene – a general term for a healthy sleep routine.
• Try and start the bedtime routine at the same time every night.
• Make sure you avoid screens such as TVs, tablets, and smartphones for at least an hour before bedtime – the blue light from electronics suppresses the release of an important sleep hormone called melatonin.
• Keep the area around the bed uncluttered.
• If your child doesn’t like falling asleep in the dark, invest in a soft/ambient nightlight with a timer.
• Try and get your child up at the same time each day to establish a routine – the occasional lie-in is okay though!
Mindfulness – Not Just for Grownups
Mindfulness is the concept that you can achieve calm by focusing on the present moment. This may be achieved by focusing on sensory input such as sights, smells, or sounds. Other techniques involved meditation or visualization.
A study by Oxford University in the UK revealed that young people who practiced mindfulness at home and in school had improved mental health. A side note is that teachers who train in mindfulness techniques see improvements in their own well-being! A bonus for parents who want to try these techniques with their own children.
• There are many mindfulness techniques for kids, from meditation to sensory practice.
• Look for free apps that offer mindfulness recording for kids.
• A box of items your child likes to touch or listen to can be soothing and calming, particularly around bedtime.
• If your child becomes anxious, you can take them through a short exercise – breathe, and name five objects you can see, four things you can touch, three that you can hear, two that you can smell, and one you can taste. This brings your child back into the moment and may distract them from the source of the anxiety.
• Remember that neurodivergent children, such as autistic or ADHD-diagnosed kids, may respond to mindfulness techniques in varying ways. Don’t get frustrated if something doesn’t work – just try something else instead.
Research their Routine
Find out from their school which lessons they’ll have on their first day going back to school. Hype up the ones you know they love, and give them support on the ones they dislike or are nervous about.
• See if you can get a copy of their timetable prior to school starting again.
• Let your kids know in advance about changes in staff that will affect them.
• Talk to them about how they’re feeling – what are they looking forward to? What makes them feel anxious?
• Arrange something fun for after school on days they’ll find particularly stressful.
Conclusion: Keep Your New Habits Up Through Term Time
Now you know some of the best ways to prepare your kids for going back to school, but there’s no need to rest on your laurels. Make a note of your child’s mood during the transition period. Keep open communication with them, and talk to their teacher or other staff members if necessary. Above all, be there for your kids and if you need support, talk to other parents either online or in face-to-face groups. It’s always great to know you and your child aren’t alone.