Clodagh Finn says school time is stressful for parents too, but that there are plenty of things that can be done to calm the chaos.
NOBODY will be surprised by a new survey that shows one in three Irish parents finds getting their children ready to go back to school stressful and chaotic.
It’s the same every year, says clinical psychologist and father of three school-going children David Coleman
The secret, however, is not to panic. He can’t stress that enough.
“Every year, so many families find it a really stressful time. There are new teachers, or new schools and they will bring with them some teething problems, but don’t panic.
"There will be a few weeks of readjustment and then everything will settle.”
And take heart, it’s not all bad news.
The back-to-school survey, which was conducted earlier this month by multivitamin brand Pharmaton, also revealed that one in two parents do their best to prepare for this time of year.
A total of 49% rehearse the back-to-school “run through” in advance.
“I was really impressed by that because going back to school is really all about parents just being ready for it,” says Coleman.
The author and presenter of the award-winning RTÉ Bullyproof series has teamed up with Pharmaton Kiddi’s range for a campaign designed to give parents tips to help them ease their children back into the school routine.
“Settling back into school can be as hard for parents as for children.
"The greater freedom and lack of routine during the summer break can be a welcome relief, but predictability and structure also has its place in children’s lives.
“The fact that children are busier and more occupied during term time can make parents’ lives a bit easier, so getting back to school is a bit of double-edged sword.
"It might take three or four weeks for things to settle, but remember it will pass and try to make it easy for yourself.”
For parents of small children, separation anxiety (and the fear of it) can mar the first day of “big” school, but it’s natural for children to shed a few tears.
“That’s perfectly normal for children who are away from the security of the home for the first time but the biggest problem is if children perceive that their parents are anxious. They will pick up on that.
“Parents have to put a brave face on it. And it sounds awful, but they have to be cruel to be kind,” Coleman says, recommending that parents kiss their children goodbye, give them a little wave and then leave without a backward glance.
“Have a bit of faith in the teachers who have great expertise in this area. Trust that they know what to do.”
For older children, there are different issues that can range from struggling at school work, failing to make friends and bullying.
“Maybe you have already done a bit of work during the summer on self-esteem but make sure that you have expressed all of your concerns to the school.
"Maybe a teacher can check in with [your child] during the day. It makes a big difference if they know they are not on their own,” says the clinical psychologist.
For children of all ages, it’s important to make sure that they are eating and sleeping well when they start back at school.
“If you can get any kind of breakfast into them that is good and at least give them the opportunity to have a healthy lunch, whether they choose to eat it or not.”
He says that parents should try to ensure that children’s lunches are balanced as they will need extra energy to take them through the school day. Good nutrition will also help to boost concentration levels.
Getting enough sleep is also vital.
You might be surprised to hear that teenagers are the ones who need their sleep more than children in primary school.
The average child needs between eight and 10 hours a night but a teenager can need anything from nine to 13 hours, says Coleman advising parents to take it easy on teenagers who appear to be lazing around at the weekend.
He says studies have shown that teenagers are actually programmed to sleep late and rise late.
The circadian rhythms that govern body temperature, appetite, hormones and sleep cycles change at puberty, delaying the time teenagers finally go to sleep – and the time they wake up.
“They won’t get the sleep they need during the week as they have to get up early for school, so let them sleep late at the weekends to catch up.
"A lot of parents ‘poo-poo’ that idea and think they are just being lazy but they do need to laze — within reason. It’s fine for them to get a bit of downtime at the weekend,” he says.
Asked for a last word on the weeks ahead, David Coleman says it again: “Parents, don’t panic.”
David Coleman’s back-to-school tips
* If children are moving to a new school or there are any changes in school travel routes, run through them in advance. That will ease the way on the first day of school.
* If they haven’t started back to school yet, start to wind back your children’s bedtimes. Wake them earlier, too, so that they are used to the term-time bedtime when schools begins.
* Remember that separation anxiety is normal and healthy, especially for younger children. If your little one is starting school, be prepared for some tears in the first days and weeks of “big” school. Allow a few weeks for them to adjust and remember that their teachers are professionals who are used to dealing with this.
* The early weeks of school are exhausting for children so keep after-school activity to a minimum. Allow lots of time for rest and recuperation at the weekends too.
* If you have annual leave left, think about taking some around now. That way, you can be more available to your children in that first week back.
* Make healthy lunches to keep your child’s energy levels high and to help them sustain their concentration over the whole school day.
* Try to create settled daily routines as early as possible. That will provide some continuity and predictability for your child.
* Establish good habits. Get your children into the habit of eating breakfast before school and then getting straight into homework shortly after they arrive home after school.
* Plan for short “check-in” chats to make sure that all is well in their world. Aim to give each child five minutes of your undivided attention every day. Ask about what happened in class and in the school yard.
* Reduce screen time during the week to free up time for homework and exercise.
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