Today many local public schools resumed classes for the start of the 2021 school year. While there are probably many parents who breathed a sigh of relief as the school bell rang, there were probably also many tears, and over the next few weeks, there will surely be some settling in issues that parents will be contending with.

Getting back into the school routine can be tough - for both parents and kids! No more lazy sleep-ins, or crazy activity schedules to keep the kids busy while Mum and/or Dad have to work. As many parents know themselves in going back to work after holidays, the first day back can be a struggle to say the least! When the alarm goes off, it's an effort to get out of bed, let alone all the other stuff. And even when you're pumped to get back to work, having to concentrate for hours at a time can initially be a bit tough.. It can take a while to get your head back in the game.

So imagine how big those feelings must be for our children, who have also enjoyed a lack of routine over the past 6 weeks, fun activities with family and friends, new experiences and the relaxing of rules that they generally have to follow the rest of the year.. The transition is hard! Returning to school can bring out some big emotions - there is the excitement of returning to see all their friends, the anticipation of being in a new class with a new teacher, and sometimes, fear and worry about what the year ahead will bring. General worry and anxious thoughts about going back to school are completely normal, and kids too have days where they are just not "in the mood" (just like adults do!)

So here are some tips from our Specialist Family Workers to help parents facilitate a smooth transition back to school, for our little ones...

1. Get back into your School routine as soon as possible - including earlier bedtimes!

Its normally recommended that to help transition out of holiday mode, start easing back into the school routine 1-2 weeks before school goes back.. For parents this means reinforcing earlier bed times (maybe your normal 8pm bedtime has slipped to 9pm during the holidays), and trying to get back into a consistent wake-up time too.

Healthy eating is also something that gets relaxed in holidays, so it might be worth scaling back the treats, and trying to refocus on healthy eating again. Children need good nutrition to learn and grow, and while lunchbox planning can be a pain for parents, it actually forces us to think about healthy food choices, and this is great for our kids.

If you've been a little relaxed about screen time over the holidays, try to start to wind that back too (otherwise the meltdowns will be fairly fierce come school time!) Try to get the kids outside doing some activities for at least one hour per day of moderate physical activitiy - at least 3 -4 times a week.

Re-establishing these healthy habits around sleep, exercise and food can help to set our kids up for success, and it's one less change for them to deal with when school goes back. Doing it gradually rather than massive changes all in one go is a much better way for the whole family to process and transition to the school routine.

2. Talk about going back to school in a positive way

Talking about the return to school in a positive way is really important to establish the right mindset as early as possible. Focus on the positives, and counter every negative they throw at you (like homework) with a positive (time with friends, or learning something new!)  But it's also important to not dismiss any anxious thoughts they may have, and listen to their feelings and talk through their concerns with them. You can offer support to them by explaining that it's perfectly normal to have some worries or nerves about starting school. Reassure your child that they are probably not the only one who feels this way, and that working through their feelings, and being brave to push through their fears will see so many positives come their way. Of course, keep the lines of communication open and make sure to keep checking in with them (or encourage them to check in with you) if they continue to feel this way. If negative thoughts about school continue for more than a week or two, it might be worth reaching out to the child's class teacher to see what additional support they can provide. Treating your teacher as a partner in your child's wellbeing is an important step and working collaboratively - and a key to providing consistency between home and school.

3. Use Visual Aids to facilitate the morning routine

Particularly for little kids, having prompts about a routine can help them feel more comfortable with what to expect next. Maybe a craft activity the family could work on together could be making a "Getting Ready" chart which lists the activities they need to do in the morning before school. It could include tasks such at eating breakfast, making their bed, getting dressed, cleaning their teeth, packing their lunchbox in their bag, making sure they have what they need for the day ahead. A routine checklist is a great way to keep kids on track in the morning.

4. Look for signs your child may be struggling

Anxiety in children sometimes presents in different ways. Even though they may tell you that they are "fine", it's important for parents to look for signs that their children may need extra attention or reassurance about going back to school. Signs to watch for include:

  • More clingy than usual
  • Tries to avoid normal activities or "negotiate" or procrastinate their way out of doing things.
  • Retreats to younger behaviours (ie regresses)
  • Increased tears or restlessness.

If any of these behaviours persist, talk to your child's teacher or the school well-being co-ordinator about what is happening.

5. Remind your kids what they are good at, and talk about goals for the coming year.

Setting goals for the coming year can give your child something to work towards and be excited about. Starting the conversation with what they are already good at can give them a platform of confidence, and help them feel more comfortable about trying new things.

6. Encourage new friendships with playdates where possible.

Particularly for children starting school, or changing schools, making friends is probably at the top of their list of worries. That's to be expected, and so reinforcing new friendships outside of school as well, is a great way to build on these connections and help your child feel more comfortable.

Starting back at school is a big deal for everyone - there is suddenly more structure and routine in all our lives - parents and kids! So it's important for everyone to ease their way back into it, and give everyone some time to adjust.