Ease any worries your little one has about leaving the comfort of home and heading towards the school gates
Words: Gabrielle Hernandez
Preparing for back to school is much more than buying a backpack or returning to a regular sleep schedule. Many often forget the emotional toll this transition period can take on little ones. Dr. Sam Wass, child psychologist and on-screen scientist of the Channel 4 series The Secret Life of 4, 5 and 6-Year-Olds, spoke with Mama about the best ways to help your child understand the emotions they might experience in this transition period.
Understanding Their Emotions
Firstly, it is critical that you help your child understand what they are feeling. It is naturally common for them to experience stress or anxiety. Sam emphasises that unlike adults, children are limited in the degree to which they can grasp these kinds of emotions.
“Every child reacts differently,” says Sam, “it is important to understand their underlying feelings.” He stresses that discovering the trigger for their reaction is key to helping them through it. For example, some children genuinely enjoy structure, and therefore the routine of school makes them feel at ease. While on the other hand, a child who prefers freedom to roam about might feel constricted by this change.
Parents are much more capable of understanding why a little one might feel a certain way. Sam suggests putting a label on the situation. He says your child will appreciate this helpful tool which allows them to better grasp why they are bothered. One way to assist them in comprehending the emotion is by offering your observations as possible explanations. In making statements such as, ‘I can see it makes you nervous when…’ you are allowing them to make a connection between an emotion and an event.
Helping Them Cope
“Parents have a natural tendency to coax a child and tell them to not experience a feeling,” mentions Sam. However, he notes this method is ineffective. In addition, he says telling them to focus on positivity rather than dwelling on the negatives has proven to be counter intuitive.
“Communicate that you understand what they are feeling.” Sam offers that support is the best method for helping your child. However, he warns that trouble could arise if your emotions get too involved. “If you’re stressed, that communicates to them.”
As a parent, it is natural that the first day of school can also take an emotional toll on you. The sadness you feel as you send your child off on this new journey might lead you to transpose it into worry. Sam advises you try your best to keep these feelings separate.
“Taking that moment and thinking of it as the ‘last image’ of them can be a tricky experience.” Sam adds, “be nice to yourself.” Plan an outing for yourself to get your mind away from the worry, and celebrate this accomplishment in your little one’s life.
Once your child reaches the school gates, they might fret about being on their own for the day. Ease their minds by helping them find comfort and preparing for their new interactions.
“Bridge home and school,” says Sam. Pack familiar things in their backpack or lunchbox. Whether it be their favourite snack or a little note, these are lovely ways to remind them that you love and support them.
Sam is working on a school lunch campaign with Hartley’s Jelly Pots. Research conducted by Hartley’s revealed 42% of kids spend up to 30 minutes chatting to their friends over lunch every day.
“School lunches are preparing kids for the dinner parties of the future, learning important social and communication skills that makes it one of the most important parts of the school day,” highlights Sam.
Their lunch boxes are a major player in having a successful day. Hartley’s has created a mini series looking at the conversations kids have over lunch including careers, love, family and education. These conversations are key to helping your child prosper in their new school environment. Preparing discussion topics and practicing jokes at home can help your child become more comfortable with other children at the lunch table.
Your child will be raring to go once you’ve had a chance to help them sort out their nerves. Be ready to have those little learners chatting away about how much they love this new adventure.