Your Baby & Toddler
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
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