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8 practical hints for beating the back-to-school blues

4 February 2020

Was that the sound of the bell calling them back to school after weeks of summer break? While some will be jumping for joy – ready to hit the books, see their pals and meet their teachers, others will be less than impressed. For some, the first weeks can be anxiety-inducing and downright depressing. At the very least, it can put a serious dent in a run of sleep-ins and Netflix marathons.

So how do you help put the spring in their step and get them packing their bags as they head back to school this year?

Preparation is the key to dealing with situations brimming with unknowns ­– and a new school year is an unchartered territory for many kids.

Thankfully, there are many practical things you can do at home to not only encourage your child to go to school – but maybe even look forward to it.

Hint 1: Master the art of routine

It’s not surprising that kids feel thrown at the thought of going back to school. They’ve spent weeks in their own routine that goes something like this: get up when I want, watch what I want and go to bed when I want.

When holidays come to a grinding halt, it’s back to school day routine and a lot less ‘do what I want’.

So, help them get grounded again by establishing wake-up, meal and bed times. Preferably you’d start a week before school goes back – isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? But don’t worry if you haven’t.

Remember consistency matters whether you’re dealing with primary school-age kids or teenagers.

Hint 2: Make it their own

Start the new school year by giving your kids some increased responsibility.

By getting your kids involved in making or planning their own lunches and packing their own bags, you give them a sense of control. And can help build their confidence.

In the long run, it will make your life a little easier too. Yep, it’s a win-win!

Hint 3: Get the gang together

The schoolyard can be a daunting place for some kids, particularly when starting at a new school or in a new class. Feelings of fear and worry about finding new friends to hang out with can be overwhelming, especially in the first few weeks.

Try organising a few playdates to help your child become acquainted with new mates.

For older kids, try making subtle suggestions to reach out to others. Inviting the new kid at the school (and maybe their parents) to a weekend BBQ can be a welcoming gesture that is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression.

Hint 4: Keep it low key

This may contradict Hint #3, but try not to overdo social engagements and after-school activities in the first few weeks either. The transition back to school can be tiring, especially for primary school-age kids.

That said, for many working parents, afterschool programs are a necessity and you certainly shouldn’t feel guilty. There’s a huge range of benefits: from further learning and development and increased socialisation to helping establish routine.

So, in the evenings, keep the vibe calm to help kids slip into earlier bedtimes – free from distractions, like devices, that can lead to sleep avoidance.

Hint 5: Ask, listen and repeat

The struggle is real. At least for some kids. Feelings of dread at the thought of a new class, more difficult algebra or a class presentation can be debilitating.

When kids feel anxious, it’s important to talk to them about their worries. Find a calm moment, ask questions and really listen, repeating back to them to show you understand. Talking about specific concerns can help find solutions – what is it, in particular, they are worried about? How can you help make it easier?

Don’t focus on hypothetical ‘what-ifs’. Rather, steer towards ‘what is’ and how they can change a situation.

Remember to highlight positive moments as a reminder that school can be fun and rewarding. And be sure to make it clear that staying home from school, just because your child wants to, isn’t an option.

Hint 6: Bring stress levels down a notch (or 10)

Creating a calm environment at home can help your child feel relaxed and less anxious.

Sure, it’s easy to lose sight of this when you’re running late for work and dealing with resistance to leave the house. But that’s where planning ahead is crucial.

Give yourself extra time to get out the door, especially for the first few days of school. Expect a tantrum or two (less so if your kid is in high school), maybe a couple of avoidance tactics – and quite possibly, a lost shoe.

Which brings us to the next point…

Hint 7: Why panic when you can organise?

As Benjamin Franklin said, ‘for every minute spent organising, an hour is earnt’. Wouldn’t an extra hour in the morning be nice?

Get everything together ahead of time: school bag packed, water bottle filled, uniform cleaned and both shoes lined up at the front door.

Know exactly where your child needs to be in those early weeks. Running late every day is likely to impact an already anxious child.

Hint 8: Check yourself before you wreck yourself

The start of the school year can be just as daunting for parents.

Fake it ‘til you make it if necessary: be the calm and level-headed confidant you know you want to be… and can be.

Your attitude towards school may play a role in shaping theirs – so try to present school as a positive experience, rather than a ‘necessary evil’.

In more extreme cases, school refusal can be challenging for everyone involved and may require professional intervention.

If these strategies don’t help and anxiety about school continues or gets worse, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Keeping notes or an anxiety logbook may help if you decide to speak to a psychologist. Call us on 1300 995 636 to learn more today.