Easing the transition back to reality
Summer holidays will be coming to a close in a few weeks and in my experience, many parents are worried and stressed about how their child will manage this transition. For some children, the transition is to a completely new learning environment such as home to childcare for the first time, for some it is to the same school but to a different stage such as Kinder to Prep or to a different school campus. What I have learnt in my years consulting with families, that even when the change is minimal, the majority of children still struggle to make the adjustment quickly from the minimal expectations of school holidays to the demands of term time.
One reason for this is that school holidays are often marked by a more relaxed approach to routine, including wake up times and rigid activity times. The start of a school year implies a return to a requirement for increasingly fixed daily routine. Depending on your children’s extra curricular commitments, this can be a big shock to the system after a long break. This adjustment can be difficult for all family members, including parents and so these tips focus on some key areas and hope to minimise the difficulties in transitioning back to the realities of school life!
School mornings tend to be chaotic for most people and involve seemingly endless tasks and enormous time pressures. This is in contrast to school holidays when many children will have been enjoying sleep ins and staying in pyjamas past 9am. The sudden switch to early wake ups and a tight timeframe to get dressed and ready to leave the house is overwhelming and stressful for families. My advice is to begin a ‘faux’ early morning routine in the last week or two of holidays, to get kids used to early starts without the real pressure, just yet, of needing to leave the house by 8am. By beginning to wake the family a few minutes earlier each day, gradually moving the wake up time to the ‘school day wake up time’, your child has the chance to adjust to the early starts by the time January 30th comes around.
Other ways to practice for a less stressful transition to school mornings is to give each child an age appropriate check list of what needs to be done and within a set time frame. This can include eating breakfast, brushing teeth or tidying up their toys. By putting this routine in place before school starts, your child is already accustomed to their morning routine before it becomes a necessity.
24/7 access to the pantry and fridge may be a reality of school holidays, but the start of school will mean set times for meals and snacks. Children who are used to snacking all day (as can be the norm over these long holidays), may be used to eating smaller amounts more frequently, and will find it difficult to become accustomed to a school routine of eating larger portions at less frequent intervals during the school day. I encourage families to begin sending their child to day camp, or to their daily activity with their school lunch box, divided up into fruit snack, afternoon snack and lunch, so that your child begins to get a sense of portion size, frequency of meals and having to wait in between meals. Day trips and family picnics can also follow a similar theme, where children have lunch boxes as they would for school, rather than a spread of snacks and food to pick at throughout the day.
At this time of year, anxiety about the new school year is rife for both parents and kids of all ages! Most commonly this is exhibited once school goes back around times of separating from you.
There are so many reasons for this including the sense of a change that is coming, the uncertainty of what the new school year will bring and worries about social dynamics. If your child is anxious, they may show signs of clinginess, sleep disruption or even toilet training regression.
Speaking to your child through social stories is a great way to explain the change that is coming and to prepare your child for what to expect with the new school year. Talk to your child about what drop off will look like, who their teacher will be, which friends they will see at school and what activities they can expect to participate in at school. Encouraging your child to play independently or with friends or cousins is another way to slowly wean your child off the expectation that you are always around. By gradually transitioning your child into ‘school mode’, they are less likely to feel the sharp pangs of anxiety once they finally walk through their classroom door.
After School Routine
Particularly at the beginning of term, many parents report that their child is more tired after school and that sleep patterns and children’s behaviour can vary as they adjust back to school hours and routine. It is therefore important that an evening routine is put in place quickly, so that children can feel the security of predictability and so that practically, homework, dinner and bed time are factored in and achieved at a reasonable hour. This is something that can be started in the school holidays. Visual schedules are helpful for this so that everyone is clear about the expectations.
The beginning of the school year is a great time to set new habits, particularly around opening channels of communication with your child and across the family. Evenings are a great time to talk to your child about their day, what they enjoyed, who they played with, what their teacher said. This is a ritual that can be started in the holidays (although the conversation topics will be different). Anytime is a good time to talk to your child and encourage them to be open with you. Dinner time, bath time, bed time or even home work time can be helpful cues to initiate conversations like these.
These conversations allow your child to begin to process their day fully and will hopefully lead to them being calmer and sleeping better at the start of the school year.
It is important not to under-estimate the enormity of what the adjustment feels like for children who are transitioning from holiday mode to the demands of a full school day. Whether it’s separation anxiety, social or academic pressure being felt by your child or a drastic change to the families daily routine, the end of school holidays can be difficult to navigate. Putting in place some structure during school holidays, planning and gradually introducing your child to the reality of a new school year can all help to increase your feelings of security and safety for every member of your household!