Your children have just had nearly 6 weeks off. For some kids this might have been rather fun and exciting, they might have gone away on a holiday or been on a holiday program etc. For those children in step and blended families they also might have been away and had fun but this time may have been fraught with challenges. They may have been a part of multiple Christmas days, their time may have been split with biological parents, extended family, stepparents and their extended family etc. and they might be exhausted from it all. Heading back to school after such a break can be exciting for some children as they have become bored in the holidays, however it also can be an anxious time for some children as they navigate a new routine, new class, new friends and maybe even a new school. The following are some pointers to help children transition back to school!
Think about what last term was like… and identify areas for change
Is there a few small changes that will make a BIG difference? Did you find it hard to leave on time? Was breakfast an issue? Is one child worried about something specific? Were uniforms the issue? Talk to your partner or your ex-partner if you have one and try and work out what can make it a little easier. How can the co-parenting schedule (if you have one) be easier on firstly the children and secondly the parents. Identifying small issues and altering the routine slightly can sometimes have a huge impact on our day-to-day lives. Also talk to the kids and ask for their suggestions, this is a great way to get them involved and work towards problem solving.
Make a countdown calendar so kids know when they will be returning to school
Include them in making this- use humour, be playful. Having it up on a wall where everyone can see is really important. If your child is between homes regularly try to have a calendar at each house. This could not only be a countdown to school but act as a visual for when the child(ren) are at each house. Use different colours and keep it fun. Include things like shopping for stationery and/or uniforms together. Give them options and choices so they have a feeling of control.
One week before school goes back aim to reinstate the bedtime routine
If you don’t have the same bedtime routine over the holidays it is good to start the school routine early! This will ensure by the time the children go back to school they understand the routine but also are well rested. Remember that primary school age children should be having 9-11 hours of sleep a night, while those in high school should be getting at least 9 hours. You may need to work on winding the clock forward 30 mins at a time until they are back in the school time routine. Offer an extra story or time with you chatting in bed if this makes it easier. Also ensure that you and your partner or ex-partner are on the same page with this, sometimes talking about the benefits of sleep for your children can really help https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/sleep-tips-for-children
If your children use an alarm clock ensure you start using it again a few days before so it is not a shock when it comes to the first day of school!
Be positive but realistic about school life
It’s tempting to say – “You are going to LOVE your teacher and next year will be soooo awesome!!!” But it is actually better to ask what they are looking forward to and also remind them – there will be a few different things but it will be the same as all school or work weeks- there will be lost of fun times and a few hard times and you will handle the ups and downs as we all do.
Work on creating 3 great lunches together
Go to the market or supermarket and work with them to come up with good lunchbox ideas. If you can get kids interested in making savoury and/or fruit muffins you will be on a winner!
Great healthy muffin site – https://cookieandkate.com/healthy-apple-muffins-recipe/
Coming up with 3 different ideas for sandwiches and snacks will make the morning (or night before) easier when putting the lunch together. If possible, prepping this beforehand ensures smoother mornings. If your child is across 2 homes, they will probably have different choices available, try not to worry about the lunches outside of your control.
If possible, in the week before returning to school meet a couple of kids that they will be with in class at the park or invite them over. Have them make their own picnic or go on a bike ride with you or something else that gets them co-operating.
A few days before school have a talk about anything that may be worrying them
Kids can sometimes have all sorts of fears like wetting their pants or you not turning up for pick up or even not knowing how to ask a teacher for help. Asking them about their worries will get them talking about them so then you will know how to help. Provide solutions like giving them spare clothes, or a back-up persons phone numbers or a 3-step list of asking for help so they feel well equipped and less worried. If you are co-parenting with an ex-partner, ensure you talk about these worries and the solutions you gave your child so that they too can discuss and provide the same reassurance.
Talk about screen time or app use
Sit down with your children and go through the apps and games they are allowed to use- if any when school goes back. You should be aware of each app available on your child’s device and decide whether they are old or mature enough to use them. Draw up a schedule for screen time once school starts again and pop it on the fridge- be clear about boundaries and consequences. There is an awesome app called Family Link https://families.google.com/familylink/ that lets you monitor and control screen time by locking the device, setting daily limits and controlling what they can watch and download to the device. Separated parents can also both have controls and see the time children are on their screens in real time.
Consider a change in how they get to school
So many kids have no option other than to be driven. However, some autonomy promotes confidence and overcomes anxieties. Even if you drive them you may choose to drop them off a little way off so they can walk some way on their own this year. If they can learn to walk or ride to school in stages, you can work together on this. Children enjoy feeling autonomous and we need to give them tasks that make them feel in control and proud of themselves.
Make a little plan for YOU!
When kids return to school after holidays, many parents take a deep breath and get back into their own routines, this is not an indulgence it is the basis of your mental health and happiness- and that means its importance extends to benefits for your children. Try to carve out some down time, school holidays are stressful and tiring especially if you are a single parent or are trying to co-parent with an ex-partner and are working etc. Do not feel guilty about taking down time. If you can get away for a day or night somewhere to re-charge that is ideal but even 30 minutes of reading or a long bath will help.
If you or your child(ren) are finding the transition back to school really difficult and the worries seem to outweigh everything else, try to seek help early
Where to access further help:
- Stepfamilies Australia www.stepfamily.org.au
- Family Relationships Advice Line 1800 050 321
- Lifeline 13 11 14
- Raising Children www.raisingchildren.net.au
Written by Phoebe Wallish & Helen Rimington (Parent Educator, drummond street services www.ds.org.au )