Let conversations about tricky subjects happen naturally, and try to ask open-ended, non-leading questions. For a younger child, you might ask “what are two feelings you have about starting school?” – by encouraging them to give two feelings it can open the conversation about experiencing mixed emotions. This lets you help them organise their feelings and give them strategies for managing the tricker emotions, while at the same time focusing on the positive aspects of starting school.
For older children, you can take a more non-confrontational approach – a car is a great place for this as you’re not sitting face to face which can be easier for children and teens (and many adults!) who find talking about their emotions difficult. Sometimes talking about your own experiences and emotions when you were younger can be a helpful way to increase the comfort level of your child in exposing their vulnerabilities.
Either way, it’s essential that you acknowledge and validate your child’s emotional experience so that they feel comfortable talking to you about their feelings, and this in itself can help them feel better if they’re nervous or uneasy about the looming transition.
What are some tips to navigate a healthy relationship with school?
This really starts with you as the parent – by developing a strong relationship with your child’s teachers and school, you’re setting them up for success and allowing them the opportunity to form a healthy relationship with the school themselves. For primary school-aged children, you can do this by being a parent helper in the classroom, joining committees at school and forming social relationships with other families within the school community. In addition, by attending parent info nights and greeting the teachers when you see them at drop off and pick up, you’ll also become more embedded in the school which can be helpful for your child. In fact, there is considerable evidence that shows improved academic achievement for children whose parents are engaged with the school.
At a more practical level, set up clear routines and rituals at home in the morning, afternoon, and evening that promote your child being at their best while at school – this makes it easier for positive associations to be made with the school. Important factors to include in your routines are breakfast in the morning; having time to connect with each other in the afternoon or evening; and ensuring your child is going to bed early and that their sleep is good quality.
How can you help to manage or minimize your child’s stress levels when they’re embarking on a new experience, such as school or kinder?
Supporting your child’s emotions involves three fundamental steps:
- Ask yourself “how am I feeling?” – perhaps you’re feeling apprehensive. Or maybe even stressed about getting everything ready for your child (there’s so much fear-mongering about getting everything ‘perfect’ for your child so they have the best start to school – try not to get sucked into that!). Whatever the emotion you’re feeling, it’s really important that you start by acknowledging it, so that you can clearly move on to supporting your child’s emotions.
- Ask yourself “how is my child feeling?” – and if you don’t know, you can likely take a guess by the way they’re behaving (or ask them!). By acknowledging and parking our own feelings, we can more easily identify and acknowledge our child’s emotions.
- Ask yourself “what does my child need from me?” – this is about identifying what would help your child. Perhaps they need reassurance, and validation of their emotions (yes, even if it seems trivial to feel upset about wearing a blue uniform when they’d rather purple, it may well be a genuine feeling for your child so it’s important that we validate their experience), or some ideas to help regulate themselves.
Using these steps in the context of transition allows us to more clearly separate our own experience from that of our child’s and then move on to some practical strategies to assist them.
You’ve spoken about ‘school readiness’ previously, and how it’s important to work on social and emotional skills – what are some exercises or activities that you would recommend?
Not surprisingly, this starts with how you relate to your child yourself. By showing affection for your child and acknowledging their achievements you will already be helping them develop the all-important social-emotional skills needed to successfully transition to school.
However, a big part of developing social-emotional skills is allowing your child to feel competent in the ‘big world’ without you – and this starts by helping them develop a sense of responsibility. You can try:
- Giving them household chores, such as setting the table or helping with the washing
- Letting them order at a café, or pay at the counter at the end of a restaurant meal
- Encouraging them to talk to the cashier at the supermarket or toy shop
- Teaching them how to assert themselves respectfully with their friends
- Encouraging them to ask for help from the other adults in their lives – teachers and parents of friends
What are some ways that I can positively use the Summer holidays to assist with developing these skills?
The summer holidays are a great time to consolidate your child’s development prior to commencing school.
- Have your child looked after by trusted adults so that they are having practice with separating from you regularly
- When you’re out and about, encourage your child to exercise their independence if they feel ready, by letting them order their meal at a café or buy their ticket at the movies themselves (while you watch of course!)
- Practise going to public toilets and teaching your child how to lock and unlock the doors
- Have play dates with other similar aged children so your child can practise sharing, turn-taking and waiting
Allowing your child age-appropriate independence while under your watchful eye and within your safe boundaries, can increase your child’s confidence. This can make separation at drop off easier – and encourage them to feel positive about going off to school without you.