Just when you thought you had all your silly season shopping done and dusted and that you would not have to put a foot back into a shopping mall again until at least March, you remembered about the long list of stationery and clothing requirements that needed to get ticked off before sending the kids off to school! And you can’t help but wonder “how did we ever get through school with just a pen, pencil, eraser and sharpener?’’

Luckily most of the mad rush to get ready for going back to school has mercifully passed in a mad frenzy, but after three weeks of being laid back, dipping toes into sand and generally just soaking up the sun, it is tough for anyone to get back into the swing of things. For little ones the challenge can be even more frightening as going back to school often comes with a whole lot of unpredictability and uncertainty. It is useful to keep this in mind, listen to your child’s concerns about going back to school and to help them unpack and process as much as possible, while also being aware of and managing your own anxiety. It is useful to plan for the transition and provide as much structure and predictability from your side as possible:

  • Routine is key to a healthy, happy school going child – be sure to have a clear routine and expectations surrounding this routine in the form of a visible roster
  • Talk to your children about the new teacher or children that may be in their class
  • Your child may like to go to school with a school journal to draw events that happen during the school day or write them down to tell you when they get home
  • Try not to miss out on movement and play when they return to school – schedule regular movement breaks during homework time
  • Set aside time to spend with your children and chat to them about what happened in their school day – – make a point of getting them to tell you their highs and lows of the day to avoid getting one-word answers like “fine’’.

What if my child refuses to go to school?

As adults, we reminisce about how easy life was back when we went to school. Things were amazingly simple. The reality of our children may however not be that simple anymore. Our children’s lives have become increasingly complex as a result of a range of external factors, as well as feelings and thoughts that can lead to utterances such as: “school is hard’’, “I don’t want to go to school’’, and even “I hate school’’. These are not statements that should merely be shrugged off as they could be indicative of something that is making your child unhappy and insecure at school.

Most parents have at one time or other seen their children in an emotional state about not wanting to go to school. It is not easy to reason with a child who is consistently refusing to go to school. Refusing to go to school is very different to being truant. It is a challenge for both parents and teachers.

School avoidance can be as a result of a variety of factors:

  • Social – no friends, moving home and school, bullying, teasing
  • Worry and anxiety – about doing badly in a test, being laughed at, not coping with school, not being liked, separation anxiety and so forth
  • Learning and processing difficulties – hard to pay attention, hard to read or write, not finishing work on time, not keeping up with work, difficulty with sensory processing

So what can you do as a parent?

  • Acknowledge your child’s anxiety – let them know that they are heard and that their concerns matter to you
  • Stay calm – by showing your child that you too are anxious and upset, will only serve to increase their anxiety
  • Use clear and calm statements to let your child know that you expect him or her to go to school, for example:
    • “When you go to school today”
    • “It’s time to get out of bed”
    • “Brush your teeth, we are leaving in 15 minutes”
  • Do not use statements such as the following that give your child options to say no to school:
    • “Are you going to school today?” or;
    • “Are you feeling okay?”
  • Plan for a calm start to the day – pack school bags and lunches the night before as routine will help your child feel positive about going to school
  • Help your child to stay with sleep and wake routines – children need ample rest and sleep in order to function and cope at school
  • Praise your child when they go to school – “I know that this is hard for you, and I am very proud of you for going to school”
  • Make home very boring during school time, if your child does stay at home – no TV, computers, internet, game consoles, gadgets, or other ‘’fun stuff’’
  • At all times, if possible, DO NOT let your child stay at home. Our natural response to something scary is fight or flight. Staying at home is avoiding and running away from the situation, which only gives immediate and temporary relief, thus not allowing your child to learn coping and regulation strategies. Avoidance makes the fear stronger; it is okay to get your child to school while working out what is upsetting him or her
  • Contact the school and your child’s teacher, you need them and they need you. Inquire about any changes that may have happened and likewise, inform teachers of major life changes in your child’s life. If other issues such as depression, anxiety or learning problems are of concern, please seek professional help.

Give your child regulation strategies to help calm the nervous system:

  • Deep pressure, like a big bear hug
  • Deep breathing
  • Crunchy lunch box snacks
  • Sucking sweets or drinking water from a sports bottle with a spout
  • Allowing for a movement break
  • Carrying a backpack
  • Prepare your child in advance, if you can, of any changes in routine, outings or substitute teachers

As a parent, you need to look after yourself too! Get enough rest, exercise and take time for yourself, and don’t put the burden of self-blame upon yourself – we cannot fix everything for our children.

We went hunting for some great resources and tips for you:

Fun rituals and traditions that get kids excited about going back to school (Savvy Mommy and The Stir)
Healthy lunch box ideas and recipes (Munchkins)
Homework tips (Kids Health)
Teen Depression (Erika’s Lighthouse)
Printable Routine Charts (Pinterest)

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Article by: Nicole Kayton and Annabella Sequeira