Next week, children across Botswana will be starting a new chapter of their school career. Whether they are moving a grade higher, starting a new school or entering school for the first time, it can be an exciting and anxious time for both children and their parents.
My son starts in reception next week. His uniform is ready, he’s been prepped on what to expect and he’s pretty confident since he has a big sister there already and knows his way around! But it’s a big step and a big change, even for the most outgoing of children.
2020 wasn’t easy for the schools, yet teachers and staff stepped up to meet the new requirements and nurture our children’s learning both in the classroom and online. Across the schools, the students themselves were remarkable. They wore their masks, sacrificed their sports, kept their distance and found new and inventive ways to play, learn and connect with each other.
2021 and our children are starting a new year. New classes, new subjects and new relationships to build with teachers and classmates. Whilst it is an exciting time and lots of children will be looking forward to seeing their friends again, it can also be an anxious time for a lot of children.
Making Transitions Easier
Transitions are an inevitable part of life and mild anxiety about them is normal. We would feel nervous if we were starting a new job or moving house!
There are a few ways you can make the start of the year a bit easier for everyone. Through planning, you can reduce the after-school meltdowns. This is a real phenomenon where children who have kept a lid on so many feelings during the day, feel safe to release them at home so family get the ‘fall out’.
I don’t know about you but during a holiday, it doesn’t take long for the daily routines to shift in our house. Bedtime gets later, mornings get lazier and meals become a bit more ad hoc.
Get your children back into their school routine at least a few days before they start. This will make sure they aren’t fighting their body clock for the first week or starting the day off with a struggle.
2. Avoid Surprises
If you know they aren’t returning to their favourite teacher or their friend has left the school, let them know in advance. This gives them more time and confidence to deal with their reactions.
If you know what the school day might look like, talk them through it. Covid-19 restrictions means that some children may not have seen their new environment so any pictures or descriptions you have could help.
3. Pack Healthy Snacks
I know that’s standard advice but diet really matters!
If your child has too much sugar in their snack, they may experience a ‘sugar slump’ which can leave children feeling tired, unable to focus and affect their memory. Try packing protein-rich foods which will keep their energy levels more stable and improve concentration.
4. Lower Expectations
Your expectations of them that is!
The prefrontal cortex is that bit at the front of the brain that’s responsible for our higher functions such as thinking, planning skills and emotional regulation. It actually doesn’t fully form until after adolescence, around age 21!
Imagine having lots of new information and experiences in one day, feeling overwhelmed, but not having that thinking brain to help us to deal with it. Children have a good capacity to store emotions but will release them on the people they feel safe with. Emotional outbursts are normal and to be expected.
5. Plan For Downtime
Speaking of the post-school meltdown, we can head this off by ensuring our children don’t continue to be overwhelmed when they get home.
Rather than pack activities in, schedule some downtime to help your child to unwind. Some kids may need to zone out in front of the tv for a bit, others may want to run about outside. Ask them what they need and see how you can work that in for them.
6. Connect As A Family
When I pick my kids up from school, I ask how their day was. I’m either faced with a ‘fine’ or a detailed account of an insect on the playground. Neither gives me a great understanding of their experiences!
It’s a good idea to revisit how their day was later on, ideally when you are together as a family. Questions such as “what was your favourite part of the day”, “who did you play with?” and “was there anything today that made you feel worried?” may elicit more thoughtful answers. Having some quality time to spend with family can reassure and regulate children so they are equipped to face the next day.
Wishing all the little ones starting school next week a happy and healthy year. Sending strength to those parents at the school gates who wave them off with a mixture of relief and sadness!