Whether your child is entering kindergarten or going back to school, it's important to help them be prepared.
Children entering school for the first time have a lot of fears: will I make friends? Will my teacher like me? Will I fit in and be able to do the work? Do I know my name, address and phone number? Will I miss my mommy and daddy when I am in school? Is it the same as being in preschool or different? How will I find my way around the school? And how will I get to and from school every day? What happens when there is no school, will I still be in daycare?
Older children who are moving up a grade will have similar concerns, although the logistics of being in school will be an easier adjustment. The different amount of homework every night can be of concern to a child, as will making new friends and keeping old friends. Children entering grade 5 often find their friends forming cliques and wonder if they will be popular and if their friends will still like them. Older children may be wondering about relationships such as dating for the first time and whether or not they will be popular. Children can be cruel and can tease their classmates, especially if the child is "different" or new to the school. With puberty comes other fears: rejection, weight gain, body awareness, choosing sports or music, arts or sciences. Tastes and interests may change, as children are more conscious of their appearance.
Being part of a group or being rejected can make or break the school year, and if they experienced difficulty during the previous year, they may fear returning to school. This is when children have to be watched more closely to find clues to fears and to help them deal with their body image in a positive way. Parents have to watch for signs of drug use, anorexia or bulimia and bullying.
There are five ways in which you can help your child prepare for school:
- Keep things routine. Have a time to do homework and a time for play and for personal pursuits. Talk to them before bedtime and in the morning before they go to school. Learn with your child and keep on learning, to be a role model. Give them rules and be consistent, but be flexible as they get older (within reason). Reassure children and answer their concerns honestly and openly.
- Include family activities and family time and be there for your child to the best of your ability. Keep dialogue open. If you start doing this when your child is young, it's easier to maintain when your child gets older.
- Have a no bullying policy and pursue this with your child's teacher and administration. Let your child know you are there to help them and to help their friends, and that you will do everything in your power to help if your child or another is being bullied. Make sure your child is not bullying others!
- Get to know your child's friends and have them over to observe where your child fits into the mix. Are they happy with their friends and do they seem to enjoy being with them?
- Watch your child closely and see if they behave normally or if there are subtle differences. Discuss any changes with your family physician, school administration and teachers. They may see a different side of your child than you do. Let children know it's good to be unique and different, and you will support them and love them unconditionally. Let them know they can come to you for any reason, and any discussion, without you judging them.