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School Starters Out into the World : Starting School The next big step (part 1) - School holidays & Preparing for school A new beginning

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Q: My son complains of stomachaches on school days. Is he just attention-seeking?
A: Upset stomachs and headaches are often a sign of anxiety, but you may want to rule out any physical causes with a visit to your pediatrician. However, if your son is genuinely worried about school, his stomachache may be very real, even if there is no medical explanation. Talk to him when he feels safe and relaxed (perhaps at storytime) to see if there is anything specific he is worried about. It can help to keep track of when he reports feeling ill to see if there are particular days or activities he is concerned about. Make an appointment to see his teachers and share your concerns with them—they may have ideas about what is going on, too. Let your son know that you are taking him seriously and you are working with the school to make things better for him.

For a small number of children, anxiety about school can develop into a phobia, so it is important to address issues quickly and sensitively to prevent things from escalating.

Q: I’m getting reports from school that my son is being disruptive in class. He’s fine at home. What can I do?
A: Starting school brings a whole new set of challenges for children to deal with. They have to follow a set routine for most of the day, learn and follow the school rules, and fit in with everyone else. As they progress through school, the emphasis shifts from learning through play to more academic work, which means that children have to sit down, listen, and focus their attention on a task. Some children find it more difficult to control their behavior and may only be able to concentrate for short periods before needing a break. This can make learning more difficult and lead to feelings of frustration. Others may struggle with certain subjects, such as reading or math, which may result in them being disruptive.

Speak to your son’s teacher to find out exactly what is going on. Agreeing some simple, achievable targets with the school can help make it clear what is expected. Your son may feel disheartened about the situation, so make sure he gets plenty of praise and encouragement to boost his self-esteem. A home/school diary can also be used to share good news.

Q: My daughter is afraid of her strict teacher. What should I do?
A: Trying to maintain order in a large class of noisy, excitable children is no easy task. Teachers take control in different ways, and some are bound to be more authoritarian in their approach. This style of classroom management can be difficult for children who are not used to raised voices and stern faces. Young children may also feel that the teacher is targeting them personally rather than addressing the behavior of the whole class, and may be very sensitive to being “scolded” if they have not done anything wrong. Try discussing things with your daughter to help her see that the teacher’s behavior is not just directed toward her. If she continues to be upset, arrange to meet with her teacher to explain how she feels. Making her teacher aware of the situation will make her sensitive to your child’s reaction. It is unreasonable to expect that your daughter will get along well with all of her teachers.
Q: Going back to school after a break always seems to cause problems. Is there anything I can do?
A: The longer the holiday, the more difficult it can be to make the shift back to school routines and work. At the start of a new school year, some children may also feel anxious about changing to a new class and having a new teacher.

It’s important to keep things relaxed over school breaks, but try to keep some routines in place—even if things like bedtime may happen a little later. You can also help to keep school on the agenda by talking about friends and activities she enjoys at school. Shopping for new school supplies will also help her to start preparing for the return to school. Toward the end of vacation, you will need to gradually reign in your child’s bedtime routine so that her sleep pattern fits with the early-morning start.

Q: My son never tells me anything about school. Should I give up?
A: When your son has been working hard all day at school, the last thing he will feel like doing is going through it all again in detail. Give him some time to relax, then pick up the conversation with him later. It’s frustrating to feel that your child is shutting you out but, the more you push him to talk, the less willing he will be to share things with you. Make yourself available to talk when he is ready: Helping out with homework can be a good time. Start with general questions then try focusing on particular classes or activities: “What did you do in science today?” might get you further than “How was school?” Check his bag for notes from school and use these to stimulate conversation about activities and events in school. If you show that you are interested, he will let you know how things are going in his own time.

School holidays

School breaks are both loved and dreaded by parents. You may find yourself counting down the days to the start of school if you don’t plan ahead.

Structure and routine

As much as your child may be looking forward to vacation, moving from the structure and routine of school to the freedom and flexibility of one or more weeks at home can be difficult. Help everyone enjoy the break by maintaining your child’s familiar routines. As children get older, you may want to allow them to stay up a little later when school is out. If so, agree a time and stick to it.

Things to do

Rather than having to think up activities on the day, it’s helpful to draw up a list of fun things to do before the break begins. The weather will play a part, so make sure you have a number of wet and dry options. For example, you could go on a bike ride together, see a movie, go swimming, go bowling, visit a museum, go for a picnic, walk a nature trail, play board games, do arts-and-crafts activities, or bake cookies and cupcakes. School breaks are a prime time for family-friendly entertainment, so look in the local papers and on the internet to see what is going on in your local area. Involve your child in deciding what you will do together each day, but don’t overload him with too many choices. Agree the order of things so that everyone knows what is happening. Try to balance indoor and outdoor activities, and arrange play dates if your child has friends who live nearby.

NOTE

All children need to learn to cope with change, but some take longer to adjust

Preparing for school A new beginning

Making the move to school is one of the biggest transitions in your child’s life. Some children will be excited by the new opportunities this brings, and others will be worried about leaving the comfort and familiarity of the people they know. Make it clear to your child that he’ll be going five days a week, so he doesn’t think this is a one-time event! Parents may also feel anxious about how a child will adjust, and sad that he is growing up so fast.

  1. Get to know your child’s school

    Going on at least one visit to his new school, meeting his teacher, and spending time in his classroom will make it much easier for your child to settle in once he starts. With the school’s permission, you could even take a photo or two to remind him of where he will be going and who he will meet. Over the summer, practice the route you will take to school. Try a couple of full dress rehearsals so that you and your child can get used to the new morning routine.

  2. New shoes

    Children enjoy helping to choose new things for school, such as shoes, bags, lunch boxes, and pencils. Stores tend to sell out of popular items, so try not to leave everything to the last few days before school starts. Buying a few things at a time over a longer period will help him get used to the idea of starting school. Remember to label everything clearly with your child’s name.

  3. The big day

    Get things ready the night before, and make sure you both get up in plenty of time. When you get to school, your child may want to stay firmly by your side, or he may see a friend and want to spend a few minutes playing. Stay with him until the bell rings, then give him a hug and a kiss, and say good-bye. Remind him that you will be there to pick him up later, then wave and leave.

  4. After school

    Greet your child with a big hug and a warm, welcoming smile. Take time to look at the things he has brought home, and put his work on display to show how proud you are.

The first day

When you get to school, boost your child’s confidence by talking about the fun she will have and the new friends she will make. Make sure she has all her belongings, then calmly take your leave.

Morning routine

Make sure you have plenty of time to help your child get ready in the morning before school when he is still young. Short cuts, such as shoes with Velcro straps instead of laces, may speed up the process.

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