The start of a new school year is a time of high excitement, and anxiety, for children and parents alike. For the adults, our own memories of going back to school influence how we feel on our own behalf, and for our children.
Here are a few tips to help keep you calm and sane as another school year starts.
Be aware that this is a time of significant change.
If we can acknowledge the presence of challenging times in our lives, we are well along the path to dealing with them. Keep the start of the school year calm and low key. Don’t take on any extra significant challenges if you can help it. Plan something fun for the weekend. Lean on your friends for support and ask for advice where you need it. Choose your friends wisely, though. Don’t call on those who like to make you feel bad or know how to keep you in your place.
Make a wall chart
One of the biggest causes of stress in the daily family routine is children not having the right kit or equipment for school. Its missing, its damaged or it didn’t exist in the first place. Make a wall chart, chalk board or white board for your family showing each child, day-by-day. If you need their recorders on Tuesdays, make a note. This is even more important if you have more than one child. I have recently had a great personalised notice board made for our family (www.noticeme.org.uk).
Pack the night before
The time before school in the morning will always be short so pack the night before. Lay out piles of uniform for each child (which is also great for encouraging them to get dressed). Keep homework in school bags or another agreed place in the home. Pack their school bags, using your wall planner. If you have a sieve-brain like me, use post-its to remind you that a snack is in the fridge. I know that school uniform is expensive but if you can, have an extra t-shirt or skirt on stand-by so if there is an incident, you don’t have to rush to do too much extra washing and ironing on a daily basis. Lay out your own outfit and check your handbag. Leave nothing to chance!
Set your alarm 15 minutes earlier…
Getting ready for school in the morning, especially with multiple children and working parents, is crammed enough without trying to squash it in to the shortest amount of time possible. Why do this to yourself?? Trade the extra 15 minutes in bed with the peace and harmony that follows when you don’t have to keep shouting at people to get dressed! I have learned this lesson the hard way and remember, it is not the children who don’t leave enough time to get ready, is it?? These days everyone is always “running late” but lets face it, the primary reason for running late is not the trains or the traffic, it’s that you didn’t leave enough time. Try and leave for school 5 minutes earlier and if you happen to arrive early, use the time to practise spellings, or for the children to have a run around. If you are sharing a school run with other people, please always try and be ready 5 minutes earlier than the agreed time and never keep them waiting.
Create your own timetable
As a Mum, you know best what sort of arrangements work for your family. For example, I have learned that my 6 year old son does some homework much better in the morning. In the afternoon, he is too tired and needs to unwind and play. Therefore, I have to leave enough time in the morning for him to do what he needs to do without me getting impatient. This is different in every family. If your family hates mornings and would never dream of doing any homework in the morning, you will need to factor it in at the end of your school day. Build a timetable that works for you and your family. Don’t be influenced by what other people do and be willing to be flexible and change. Remember the new school year can be stressful so don’t be concerned if you need to adapt.
Pick your battles
Real families are not like the cereal adverts on the TV where all the children sit nicely at the table, eating beautifully and are fully dressed ready for school. My youngest son doesn’t like eating breakfast which does really bother me but having tried all sorts of tips and tricks, I always lose. I have to accept that some days he will be starving by break time and move on. The 6 year old won’t always get dressed. We know he can but is it worth fighting over or should we just help him from time to time? Decide what is most important to you in the morning. and work within your own boundaries. And, whatever has happened, make sure your last words to your child are happy ones, with a kiss, a smile or a wave, and have them do the same to you. There is nothing worse than feeling sad all day after a cross word in the morning and wondering if your child feels the same.
Use a star chart
With school age children, most of the challenges come at the start of the day. Once home, there is only really time for some play, homework, food and bed. Use your star chart or rewards system to praise your child for doing the important things in the morning. These may be eating breakfast, getting dressed or brushing teeth. Define the system in any way that works for you and will help you to keep the before school routine as easy as possible.
Respect the teachers
Teachers are well-qualified individuals who, in the vast majority of cases, really care about children. They are also individuals with personal lives and feelings. Try and get to you know your child’s teacher so that you can communicate effectively, adult-to-adult, in your child’s best interest. Don’t be scared, and don’t be rude either. If there is something you would like to discuss or if you have a question, do feel free to arrange a time and have a discussion. Don’t let things simmer and try not to use ineffective forms of communication such as writing notes in reading records for anything which is significant. A wise friend advised me to help the school out as much as possible. This might be through volunteering for a school trip or just having a school play costume ready and labelled on time. All Mums are busy but a little bit of extra effort can make a huge difference in developing a smooth relationship between you and the school.
You are not the student
When faced with a school environment, many of us revert to how we behaved and felt as child. Your child is different from you, and their relationship with their teacher is also different. You are not being judged. Be your best self as a parent and don’t feel the need to try and be something you are not.
Plan for half term
The most brilliant thing about the school year is that it is divided into neat terms with breaks in between. Half-term will be a wonderful time for you to catch your breath and to reflect on how beautifully your child has settled in. Have something to look forward to, whether it is a mini-break or a day trip to a museum. Or when the children are safely back at school, a spa day with a friend!
School days are meant to be the happiest of your life so do try and keep yourself calm and organised so that your child can be free to relax and enjoy themselves as much as possible.