Back to preschool

A new school year is ex­cit­ing, but it can also be daunt­ing to get back into the swing of things. Here’s how to tweak your rou­tine, so you’re both ready and prepped, writes Lori Co­hen

Your Baby & Toddler - - CONTENTS -

WITH EV­ERY­ONE FEEL­ING re­freshed af­ter the sum­mer break, the fo­cus shifts to get­ting ready for a new school year for your tot. Fam­ily vis­its, cel­e­bra­tions, and trips can throw out ev­ery­one’s rou­tines. Or, you may have loos­ened things up to give ev­ery­one a break and let rules and time­frames slip a lit­tle.

But get­ting back to school means that ev­ery­one needs to get their heads around ad­just­ment. Your child has en­joyed lots of one-on-one time with you, so you could ex­pect a lit­tle emo­tional wob­ble or sep­a­ra­tion anx­i­ety. Or, their sleep sched­ule could have gone out the win­dow, and you’re dread­ing the mad morn­ing rush try­ing to get them ready for school or day­care on time. So, as a par­ent, what can you do to get back on track?

SET UP A SCHED­ULE

“Cre­at­ing a daily or weekly sched­ule can be very help­ful for ev­ery­one to see what the day or week ahead looks like,” says Deb­bie Mobbs, a pae­di­atric oc­cu­pa­tional ther­a­pist with a spe­cial in­ter­est in early in­ter­ven­tion and neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tions. “Chil­dren func­tion bet­ter when they are pre­pared and know what to ex­pect from their day, so talk­ing to

them about their sched­ule can be help­ful and re­duce anx­i­ety.”

You can cre­ate a chart or write it up on a white­board, so that the whole fam­ily can see it. In­volve your kids and get them to draw pic­tures or cut out im­ages from mag­a­zines to add to the chart, so they have a vis­ual ref­er­ence they can re­fer to. For ex­am­ple, a pic­ture of them swim­ming to il­lus­trate the day they have a les­son, or a draw­ing of them play­ing with friends to show the days they will have af­ter­care.

In the week be­fore school starts, it may in­clude draw­ings of play­time, but also prep for school, such as buy­ing a new pair of school shoes.

MAKE A GAME OF IT

Role play­ing a typ­i­cal school day can be a fun way for chil­dren to get their minds around the things they might be do­ing when the first school day clocks around, Deb­bie sug­gests.

“It can help chil­dren who are re­turn­ing to or start­ing at a new school pre­pare emo­tion­ally for the ad­just­ment, but also ‘prac­tise’ what a typ­i­cal day will feel like,” ex­plains Deb­bie.

She says you could use dolls or soft toys to im­i­tate the drop-off and pick up parts of a school day. You could also set up ac­tiv­ity sta­tions so that your child can ex­pe­ri­ence the pos­si­ble ac­tiv­i­ties they may be do­ing at school.

TAKE BACK CON­TROL OF BED­TIME

“Dur­ing the hol­i­days, it’s im­por­tant to make ex­cep­tions to the sleep sched­ule, but rou­tine doesn’t need to go out of the win­dow,” says Jolandi Becker, man­ag­ing direc­tor of the lo­cal sleep con­sul­tancy Good Night Baby.

Even dur­ing the hol­i­days, says Jolandi, it’s help­ful to keep to set bed­times and set lim­its on screen time. “But ev­ery child is dif­fer­ent, and you know as a par­ent what works for your child.”

Most preschool­ers will still wake up at your reg­u­lar morn­ing time dur­ing the hol­i­days, even if they go to sleep later than usual. It means they are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a sleep deficit of be­tween one or two hours a night, which can ac­cu­mu­late over the break.

To break the cy­cle, Jolandi rec­om­mends keep­ing reg­u­lar bed­times (even on the week­ends) from a cou­ple of weeks be­fore the new school year starts. Even if your child is no longer tak­ing a nap dur­ing the day, weav­ing in a half hour’s “quiet time” can also help get their body back into the rhythm of school life.

TALK THE TALK

Keep the chan­nels of com­mu­ni­ca­tion open by talk­ing to your child. “Chat about all the things re­lated to start­ing school, and get them in­volved in la­belling and buy­ing sta­tionery,” Deb­bie says.

En­cour­ag­ing your chil­dren to share their feel­ings is also im­por­tant. Ask them what ex­cites them about go­ing back to school. En­cour­age them to ask ques­tions about the new school year.

“Let­ting them talk through their emo­tions will help ease con­cerns, and they will hope­fully start school with con­fi­dence and feel­ing se­cure,” she says.

How­ever, it’s also im­por­tant how you phrase your ques­tions when you’re chat­ting to your child, says Jolandi. “If you ask your child if they’re wor­ried about go­ing back to school, you’re pro­ject­ing your fears onto them. You should rather use pos­i­tive lan­guage such as ask­ing them what they’re look­ing for­ward to about it.”

If your child’s been in­dulged with sweets and treats dur­ing the hol­i­days (you can’t stop grand­par­ents!) re­mind your chil­dren that th­ese are ex­pe­ri­ences you have dur­ing the break, sug­gests Jolandi. You don’t need to de­prive them of th­ese fun times as you head to­ward school time, just make them aware of the dif­fer­ences be­tween school and recre­ation time.

CHECK YOUR AT­TI­TUDE

Anx­i­ety about school is nor­mal, but it can of­ten be a pro­jec­tion from the par­ents, says Jolandi.

“If you’re se­cure and cer­tain about the start of school, your chil­dren will pick up on this and feel the same.”

Show them ex­cite­ment and pos­i­tiv­ity about the changes, and re­mind them of the things at school that they en­joy, she rec­om­mends.

“You can also re­mind them of the week­ends and af­ter-school bond­ing that will be tak­ing place, even though they are back at school,” she says.

You can help them feel more con­fi­dent by em­pow­er­ing them with tasks that il­lus­trate you think they are “grown up” enough to help out.

Build­ing in­de­pen­dence is vi­tal to help chil­dren feel more self-as­sured about the new chal­lenges they may face at school. Get them to help you make muffins in the few days be­fore school, or get them to help pack school snacks.

“Don’t un­der­es­ti­mate the abil­i­ties of your preschoole­r,” warns Jolandi. “Em­power them by show­ing them how to dress and make their beds, for ex­am­ple. Small tasks can help with in­de­pen­dence and con­fi­dence to take on big­ger chal­lenges.”

GET THEIR SO­CIAL LIFE ON TRACK

Your child will be en­ter­ing a new class, where the teacher and some other chil­dren may be un­fa­mil­iar. Hav­ing some con­sis­tency can make them feel more se­cure, but you can’t guar­an­tee that their “spe­cial friend” will be in the same class as them. Help­ing your child broaden their so­cial cir­cle is cru­cial to their emo­tional de­vel­op­ment.

Ask the school to let you know if any par­tic­u­lar chil­dren will be placed in the same class as your child.

Set up a play­date a few days be­fore school, or or­gan­ise a get-to­gether with the fam­ily of the child.

Hav­ing a fa­mil­iar and friendly face in your new class can take some of the anx­i­ety away from the first day.

Make the most of the last days of the hol­i­day rather than cre­at­ing a sense of panic and an­tic­i­pa­tion.

If you’re feel­ing anx­ious, do all you can do to be pre­pared, but the best gift you can give your child is a cool, calm – and con­fi­dent – start to the new school year.

EN­COUR­AG­ING YOUR CHIL­DREN TO SHARE THEIR FEEL­INGS IS ALSO IM­POR­TANT. ASK THEM WHAT EX­CITES THEM ABOUT GO­ING BACK TO SCHOOL

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