Parenting 101: Beating the back-to-school blues
Photo: Ben White @benwhitephotography
We're just about to wrap up the first month of the new school term and it was probably a hectic one. In between facing morning and afternoon rush hour; corralling the kids between school, lessons, and extracurricular activities; getting acclimated with new teachers, curriculum, and friends, it's all enough to start praying for the Christmas holidays to get here quickly.
Understandably, it must be all the more nerve-wracking if you're a first-time parent with a child entering their first year of pre-K, primary and secondary school. It's not just a new experience for them, it's new for you too and as a parent, you want to ensure that they have as much of a smooth transition as possible.
We reached out to the team at Douglas and Associates who shared tips and advice on how you can manage and provide support for your child. From experiencing separation anxiety to managing one's expectations if your child--consistently top of their class in primary school-- is now struggling with their secondary school workload, we break down how you and your young one can make it to the end of the school year in one piece.
As a first-time parent, what can I expect (whether it be my own personal emotions or any new behaviour from my child) during this period?
During this period, in some cases, first-time parents may find that their children are striving towards autonomy and independence. In other words, they want their own space, according to Douglas & Associates. As they enter a new level of education and a new environment, they are looking forward to making new friends and becoming a part of what school life has to offer. This may cause parents to feel a bit unwanted or alone, and experience separation anxiety, especially in the case of younger children. In spite of this, it's important to allow your children the independence that they seek, while still monitoring their behaviour and support and encourage them.
The D&A team say that it's helpful for parents to become involved in school activities such as the PTA and other committees for school events. This way you keep yourself occupied while remaining a part of your child’s school experience. It also allows you to connect and form supportive relationships with other parents who are going through the same transition.
While it is important that you respect your children’s space as they enter a new school level, your presence is still necessary as this can be an overwhelming and ‘scary’ time for many children. Be there for your children when they need you to comfort and support them during this transition.
How can I manage the new semester?
A new school term means new academic material! "Sometimes your child may take a while to grasp the material in the first term and that is okay. The key to effectively managing the first term is getting to know your child," said Douglas & Associates. "It's very important to monitor your child’s progress by paying attention to their strong and weak academic areas, study patterns and learning style. Parents sometimes take it for granted that they can leave this responsibility up to the teachers."
However, parents should be reminded that one teacher is often responsible for monitoring as many as thirty students. "Become an involved parent and talk to your children; don’t ask them why they are doing so ‘poorly’ or not making top marks but instead, ask them if they are having challenges with any subject areas. It is also helpful to go through their books and highlight the areas that may be giving them trouble. Sometimes, children may have specific learning challenges that affect their overall academic performance."
Psychological assessments will help you in clarifying if your child has a learning disorder, D&A told Loop. It is therefore crucial that you identify your child’s academic challenges early so that you can seek the necessary assistance such as getting your child assessed or enrolling them in extra lessons.
My child has just entered their first year of school (pre-K). How can I help them cope with separation anxiety?
It's not unusual for your child to experience some anxiety, said Douglas and Associates. "This may be their first time being separated from you or a close relative and for children, this can be quite scary. Do not try to calm their anxiety by being dishonest and telling them that you are going to be right outside or that you are coming back just now. Help your children to adjust to this new routine by telling them from home that you are going to drop them off and leave them."
Reassure them that it will be a positive experience! Avoid making statements like ‘don’t worry, the day will be over soon’ or ‘Mummy and Daddy would not keep you here for too long’. Instead, make them see this new chapter as a positive one. Tell them that they are going to make new friends and learn new fun things; take them through the new routine step by step. Teach them how to help you pack their lunch kits and show them all the supplies that you are putting into their book bags. Getting your children involved and allowing them to see this chapter as an adventure will help in easing their anxiety.
To help your children to feel connected to you even though you are physically apart, you can leave one of your belongings with them. Even something as simple as a handkerchief with your lipstick print or with the smell of your cologne can help your children to feel like a part of you is with them.
What are some ways I can manage my child’s stress with adjusting to a new term, new environment, new course load, etc.?
"A common myth is that school success requires sacrificing all other activities and focusing primarily on school work. This type of sacrifice often leads to stress!" the Douglas & Associates team said. "The key to managing your child’s stress in adjusting to a new term is teaching them the importance of balance.
"Parents ought to encourage and sign up their children for extra-curricular activities which provide an avenue for children to relieve their stress. These activities will also help children to feel more a part of their school community and to adjust more easily to their new environment."
It is equally important for parents to ensure that their children take breaks during their study and assignment time so that they do not become overwhelmed. Assisting your children in creating schedules will also help them to manage their time wisely and experience less stress.
My child was top of their class in primary school but is now struggling with keeping up in their first year of secondary school. What can I do to manage both of our expectations while still encouraging him/her child to continue to do their best?
"Entering secondary school is often a very new academic experience and some students may take a longer time adjusting to the changes," said Douglas & Associates. "Be patient and allow your children the time to adjust. Do not assume that your children will continue to be at the top of their class as they were at the primary level. Your children are now faced with the task of navigating several subject areas and heavier workloads. With the increased demands at the secondary level, it is especially important to monitor your children for any specific learning challenges that they may have."
They add that it's okay to acknowledge disappointment and encourage children to work harder. However, how this is done determines whether your child develops a healthy relationship with school or becomes susceptible to high levels of stress.
Remind your children that you have faith in them and know that they can do better but avoid condemning your children’s performance with remarks like ‘What nonsense is this?’ or calling them names like ‘slow’ or ‘dumb’. It is also unhealthy to constantly compare your child’s performance to that of his or her peers or to disregard their subject preferences and career aspirations and impose yours.
Unfortunately, some parents become so angry and disappointed with their children’s academic performance that they verbally and physically abuse them. If you find yourself doing this, check yourself. Do not become so preoccupied with wanting your child to do well and meet your expectations of being a ‘top student’ that you lose sight of what is in the best interest of your child.
Finally, Douglas & Associates advise that no matter the age of your children and their level of education, all parents should remember to practice: patience, acceptance, responsibility, encouragement, nurturance and trust.
P – Patience (Be patient and allow your children to gradually adjust to their new school environment)
A – Acceptance (Accept that your children are not perfect and may have challenges with some academic areas)
R – Responsibility (Be responsible for assisting teachers in monitoring your child’s academic performance)
E – Encouragement (Encourage your children to work harder and strive for greater instead of condemning or insulting their academic performance)
N – Nurturance (As your children attempt to navigate a new chapter, your nurturance is critical. Be there for your children and maintain a supportive, loving and caring relationship with them)
T –Trust (Trust your children to define themselves and develop their own passions and interests as they seek independence)
Douglas and Associates offers a range of psychological and counselling services including child, adolescent, and family therapy. If you think you and your family require counselling or advice on psychological assessments, visit Douglas and Associates online, follow them on Facebook or call 662-0155.
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