We find ourselves living in times of great uncertainty and constant change. This can result in anxiety and stress, for kids and adults alike. Be aware that your kids pick up on your emotional state very easily – so make an effort to remain calm and regulate your own emotions as much as possible. While none of us can predict anything at the moment, times like these are a great opportunity to practice and model flexibility, empathy, relinquishing control and applying strategies for coping with stress. Keeping focused on the positive things in every situation is an excellent way to manage stress as well as to practice presence and mindfulness as well as gratitude.
Find small ways to give kids a sense of control
Even in the great sea of the unknown, we do still have some level of control. Help your kids focus on the things that they do have control over, such as wearing a mask correctly and regular handwashing. Allow them to pick out their own new bags, pencil cases and stationery and let them choose and help to pack a lunchbox for the school day. Allowing this sense of independence and autonomy with greatly support a child that might be feeling nervous or overwhelmed.
Speak to your kids about how they feel about starting school and start preparing them for what to expect. Speaking about their feelings will help them to mentally prepare and you to gauge where they’re at. There are a few great ways to prepare before school starts:
Let your child practice putting on their school uniform before the first day of school. Take a photo of them and chat about the difference between school days and home days. Teach them to fold up their uniform after undressing.
Use dolls or teddies to role play what the classroom might be like. Explain things like raising your hand to ask a question, wearing masks in the classroom and follow instructions from the teacher.
Create a large, colourful timetable with picture cards that explain what happens on each day of the week. You can stick the picture on with Prestik or Velcro so that you can adjust the days as needed. For example, a book means a school day, a swimming costume indicates a swimming lesson, etc.
Learn the rules and help children to learn them too
A good way to prepare your kids is to learn the new rules of the environment they’re-entering and repeat them to give a sense of comfort and familiarity with how things work. This includes the ‘usual’ school rules and norms, but also the COVID-19 safety and precautionary measures, such as social distancing, wearing masks, covering your mouth with sneezing or coughing and handwashing.
As with most things, your young children will take their lead from you, as the parent. If you handle the situation of starting school well, they will too. Don’t fret too much about how different things might be from how it used to be – kids don’t miss what they don’t know, and if its normal to us, its normal to them too. So, keep focused on the exciting things and the new opportunities for exploration and fun. Even though we are in challenging times, starting school is still an important step in a child’s life – so help them to get the best of their first experiences.