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Managing children’s – and parents’ – back-to-school blues

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by December 31, 2017 General

A young girl selects her school books in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for the new school term. — Picture by Yusof Mat IsaA young girl selects her school books in Kuala Lumpur to prepare for the new school term. — Picture by Yusof Mat IsaSINGAPORE, Dec 31 — The school holidays are over. It is time to get the children – and yourselves – ready for the next school year, and getting back to routine after over a month of holidays can be a challenge.

Reassuring the young ones that it is alright to be nervous about the new school year is something parents can do.

“Chances are, parents are feeling the case of post-holiday blues themselves, so confess to your kids how reluctant you are to see the holidays ending too,” advised Mr Kelvin Ang, Families For Life council member.

“Let them know it’s okay to feel like this and that it’s actually normal. Show empathy in addressing your kids’ disappointment but also let them know that you have confidence that they will get through it.

“Parents can also think of ways to ensure that the kids have something to look forward to in the next few months,” he added.

“Events like birthday parties, monthly play dates with friends, or the start of music and art classes. Offering reminders about the good things to come refocuses the kids on the future, and in turn helps them deal with the present.”

Stressed parents equals stressed kids

Parents are also often overwhelmed with a list of chores as well as the idea of returning to the routine of school pick-ups/drop-offs, homework and balancing kids’ numerous after-school activities. This is why parents should also take a deep breath and look after themselves while dealing with this change in schedule.

Mr Ang urged parents to be emotionally strong as children often mirror their parents’ emotions. He proposed that parents exercise self-control and stay positive, so as to turn the experience into a teachable moment and help children manage their anxiety as well as pick up coping skills.

Ms Faith Hogan, founder and counsellor, Mindwise Counselling and Training advised parents to recognise their own signs of stress and deal with it, while being compassionate with themselves. She also emphasised the importance of tackling this taxing time together, as a couple.

“Children going back to school should ideally be a responsibility shouldered by both parents. Have an open discussion about organising your combined schedules to accomplish tasks and errands, and what you both feel comfortable with,” said Hogan.

Mental and emotional preparation

Besides stocking up on school supplies and adjusting children’s slumber routines, it is also important to make sure they are mentally and emotionally prepped.

“Talk to your child and find out if he or she has any fears or concerns that school is beginning,” explained Ms Hogan. “Many children can be concerned about making friends, and some social tips can be encouraged.

Encourage them to talk to other children and introduce themselves or start conversations, make eye contact and smile. Likewise, if other concerns are voiced, do spend some time sitting down with your child listening and problem solving.”

Time to concentrate

The school holidays can also tend to disrupt children’s educational focus and goals. It is therefore important to get their concentration levels back up so that they are not distracted or bored when they return to school.

Ms Hogan offered tips such as getting the right amount of sleep as this aids in concentration as well as learning, mood and creativity; having a good, balanced diet; and getting daily exercise as key brain chemicals for memory and concentration are released during exercise.

Looking at both the past and the future could also help. Mr Ang suggested reflecting on their previous year with your child and discussing the lessons they had learnt, as this will help them refocus and put them in the right frame of mind for school.

He also recommended planning and setting milestones as this will encourage children to feel invested in their own education and set their own goals to strive towards.

However, in some situations, no matter what parents do to prepare their children for school, they will still feel stressed and anxious about the situation. This is where parents should step in and be supportive.

“The thought of starting a whole new school year can trigger several different emotions – from excitement of meeting friends again to anxiety about new curriculum and grades,” said Mr Ang. “Let them know they can always count on you if they need advice or a listening ear. Give them time and space to calm down and readjust to the change.”

“Reassure your child that it is normal for them to have these fears; don’t gloss over it,” added Ms Hogan. “Sit down and problem-solve and plan with them. Without judgemental statements, encourage your child to think of ways to solve his/her problem, providing guidance if necessary.

“Whilst being understanding, it’s very important not to let them skip school due to anxiety,” she continued. “In addition to missing out on important information or opportunities, avoidance reinforces anxiety and fear. Do contact a mental health professional if your child’s anxiety becomes overwhelming.” — TODAY

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