By Stephanie Simons,
Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire
For many parents, students and teachers, the night before school begins feels more like New Year’s Eve than December 31st does. Schedules are made, goals are set and a routine begins to develop. While many students look forward to reconnecting with friends and joining clubs or teams, for others, returning to school can elicit feelings of fear, nervousness and anger. Whether you are a parent of a child starting school for the first time, or have a child in middle or senior school, there are ways to make the return to school a positive experience.
Talk to you child and ask if he or she has any concerns about starting or going back to school. Try to have a conversation when you have plenty of time to listen and can give your child your full attention. Teenagers may feel more comfortable confiding in you if direct eye contact isn’t forced, so a chat during an activity or while in the car may be appropriate.
Common fears about school are often performance related or centre on feelings of inadequacy. Students may worry about fitting in, being late, making mistakes, being chosen last or earning good grades. Rather than saying “don’t worry” or another platitude, try to encourage your child to figure out what scares them the most and have them brainstorm solutions. Help them set realistic expectations. This type of preparation may lessen the fear or help them to deal with it better.
Prepare younger students by reading stories that feature schools as the setting or subject – just make sure the book has a positive, happy ending! Younger students may also benefit from role playing. You can role play the drop off and pick up from school, or act out how to approach other children on the playground. You can also practice being apart from your child (via play dates, lessons, or going out with your spouse). Your child will see that he or she is OK when you’re not around and will have a positive frame of reference.
De-Stress the morning
Whatever can be done the night before, do it! This includes laying out clothes for the next day and preparing snacks and lunches. The less stress a parent has in the morning, the more likely he or she will be able to stay calm and patient when encountering a child who is resisting going to school that day.
Designate a particular space in your home for storing backpacks and school supplies so that your child can quickly locate what he or she needs to grab before heading out the door.
Create a morning routine that works for your family. This could be as simple as writing instructions on a piece of paper listing steps that need to be completed before going to school or picture reminders on index cards for small children who are not yet avid readers.
If mornings are typically a rush in your home, skip a hot breakfast and try out some healthy recipes posted on the Lindo’s website, including Yogurt Breakfast Bowls, Savoury Breakfast Muffins (made in advance) and Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothies. For a quick cereal option, you may want to try Nature’s Path organic breakfast cereals or another protein rich boxed cereal. A healthy breakfast will give students the energy that they need in order to focus and learn.
Summer often invites later bedtimes, but upon the return to school, you may want to establish a calm routine at night. Something as simple as a bath followed by story time may help set up a calm environment for children to fall asleep. It can also provide a great time to have a chat about good things that happened during the day. A well rested child will be able to cope better with change or fears than a tired, cranky child. Sleep also helps us retain information and benefits our overall health.
Most of us feel a little nervous during periods of change or transition. It’s normal! Children will naturally want to avoid situations that make them uncomfortable, but it is important to encourage your child to name and face their fears. If children are permitted to stay home from school, it may reinforce their fears. Instead, try to prepare them for what to expect, reinforce positive behaviours and reward their effort. Rewards can be anything from a positive comment and a hug, to a special activity after a certain number of successes.
When it’s more than just the jitters
The World Health Organization reported that 10-20% of children and adolescents experience mental health disorders, with 50% of these beginning by the time they reach age 14. If your child demonstrates upset feelings about school with ongoing intensity and frequency, he or she may have more that back to school jitters. Children with anxiety will often complain of physical symptoms too, including headaches and sore stomachs. Anxiety about school can interfere with daily activities and make seemingly simple tasks frustrating. A medical professional may recommend cognitive behaviour therapy in order to cope with anxiety. This could include practising belly breathing, muscle relaxation and positive self-talk. Anxious children will benefit from a strong support system, so be sure to relay your concerns to your child’s teacher and principal.
Self Care for Parents
It is easier to be calm and patient when you have taken time to care for yourself, too. Carving out time for a walk with a friend, eating well and getting enough sleep will go a long way in being able to care for a child with anxious feelings. Consider naturally scented bath products (Dr, Bronner’s has an extensive line) and take a soak in your tub. Remember that popular quote, “you can’t pour from an empty cup!”
Stephanie Simons is the head pharmacist at Lindo’s Pharmacy in Devonshire. She earned her Bachelor of Science in Pharmacy at Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and has been practicing for over 20 years. She is a registered pharmacist with the Bermuda Pharmacy Council and is a member of the Bermuda Pharmaceutical Association.