As the Summer draws to a close, some of us may be thinking about the new term ahead. Nerves and excitement for parents and children especially if starting in a new class or even a new school. What can we do to try and make this transition as easy as possible and help alleviate any anxiety or stress we may be feeling?
- ACKNOWLEDGE. Any type of change can incite nerves and anxious feelings. It can make us feel uncertain, self-conscious, ill-prepared and alone. Think about a time when you may have experienced this- starting a new job or going along to a new group. Children experience these same feelings. It helps to validate those feelings and acknowledge them. Talk to your child about the things they are feeling unsure about. Is it a new teacher? Meeting new people? Unsure of a new routine? Are there any steps you can put in place to alleviate those feelings? Perhaps they are unsure or not able to verbalise or articulate how they are feeling. Talking through how they feel (both physically and mentally) and normalising them can help. Feelings of anxiety can be linked with lots of physical symptoms like sore tummy’s, trouble sleeping, racing heart, headaches so you can reassure them that these feelings are normal and that many people will be feeling the same.
- ESTABLISH A ROUTINE. Think about a busy morning. Rushing around, maybe getting multiple children ready for school, ready for work, other demands of a household and family life. Starting our day feeling stressed and rushed can impact the rest of your day and over time can impact your Mental Health. Can you establish some routines to make things easier and smoother in the morning? Is there anything you can prepare the night before? Depending on the age of your child, are there some things that they can be responsible for? Getting their books ready for example or getting themselves dressed, laying out their uniform the night before or preparing their own breakfast. Not only can this lighten your load, but it can teach children and young people the important skill of independence and responsibility. Younger children might enjoy a colourful chart, listing the steps they need to take in the morning. You can find lots of templates for these online.
- BE POSITIVE. Whilst listening and acknowledging any nerves or worries your child may have, try to speak positively about school, and try to focus on the new experiences and exciting things to look forward to. If you have any anxieties or worries, try not to share these with your child and perhaps share these with a friend or family member instead. Have a debrief at the end of the day as a family. At teatime you could go around the family and share a funny thing that happened, a challenge they faced, anything you learned today, something that you are grateful for, something that made you smile today etc. Fostering family communication in a light and informal, positive way helps you gain an insight into your child’s day and using these types of specific prompts can initiate the conversation (how often do we ask- what did you do today? To a reply of ‘nothing’ or ‘can’t remember’). It can help use life experiences as learning situations and perhaps help them understand that everyone has good and not so good days- even the rest of the family!
- REASSURANCE AND BEING PREPARED. Children thrive on routine and predictability. If your child or young person is feeling particularly worried about the day ahead, walk through the day with them the evening before. Make a list of the things that they need to do in the morning so they can check it off and feel prepared. Do they know where their uniform is? Do they know who is taking them to school? Who is picking them up? What’s for lunch? What lessons they have? Is there anything specific that they need to prepare for? For example if they are going on a trip. A bit of reassurance of how the day is going to go and what to expect can help to calm nerves and help them feel prepared.
- DOWNTIME. For some children and young people school can feel overwhelming. Has your child ever come home and had a ‘meltdown’? Some psychologists refer to this as ‘after school restraint collapse’. After navigating the complexities of school life and managing their emotions and behaviour all day, home can be their safe space to let all of that out. They may be feeling mentally exhausted. BBC bitesize have some great tips of managing this and understanding what your child may need after school to help them adjust Five tips on how to handle the after-school ‘meltdown’ or ‘restraint collapse’ – BBC Bitesize
TIME MANAGEMENT AND TIMETABLING
HOW ARE YOU? It’s vitally important to take the time to take care of yourself.
A busy family life may leave you feeling like you have no time for yourself so it can help to think of small ways you can build a bit of time for you into your day-to-day routine. When I talk to young people about looking after themselves, I compare it to cleaning their teeth. Most of us clean our teeth automatically without even thinking about it. It takes 2 minutes a couple of times a day but is a huge way of looking after our physical health. Just think about the impact on your health if you never cleaned them- tooth ache, cavities, fillings, extraction. You could end up in a lot of pain and with a huge dentist bill. I encourage young people to think of their self-care in the same way. Small things that we can do every day, that we build into our routine and that make a big difference in the long run to our Mental and Emotional Health. What could this be for you? Could you get up 15 minutes earlier than the rest of the house to have a stretch, a cup of tea, listen to some music or read a chapter of a book? Make a to do list? Have a walk on your lunch break? Drink an extra glass of water or eat an extra piece of fruit? Go to bed 15 minutes earlier? All of these small things done consistently can be built into our day-to-day routine fairly easily and over time can make a big difference to how we feel.
WHEN YOU ARE CONCERNED
Adjusting to school life and a new routine can take some time but if you have concerns about your child’s emotional or mental health, please do share these concerns. Some people can feel worried about having conversations about Mental Health- they may be concerned that they don’t know what to say or that they may say the wrong thing. In our experience, if you are open and honest and most importantly listen to what the child or young person has to say then that’s enough to start the conversation. You could start by asking how they are and making an observation about the change in their behaviour. For example “Are you feeling ok, I’ve noticed that you are much quieter than usual- is there something on your mind?” OR “How are you? I’ve noticed that you’re not spending as much time with your friends”. The added observation can foster a deeper reflection and conversation that just asking, “Whats up?”.
If you are concerned about your child’s Mental Health we’d suggest that you speak to their teacher at school in the first instance. In secondary aged young people that could be their head of year. School may be able to offer additional support depending on what your concerns are.
You can also visit the GP and talk to them about your concerns.
Some useful resources
written by – Becky CYP Worker CE Mind