Parenting is arguably challenging and rewarding, the strain of having a difference in opinion, on how to parent can definitely increase stress!! Nicole Schwarz Parent Coach has written an interesting article, that provides some handy tips on how to tackle this often sensitive issue.
Starting back at school can be a stressful time of year for all of the family, especially after a significant amount of time away for holidays. Many children and teenagers can become anxious about the transition into a new year and can often start to become increasingly clingy, complain of having pains in the tummy, headaches, become easily upset, withdrawn and irritable and start to talk about not wanting to go to school.
Research suggests that it is important that parents ensure that their child does attend school, as avoidance of school is said to only increase and reinforce a child's worries , making it increasingly difficult for them to attend in the long term.
Being away from school not only reduces the child's social interaction with peers and ability to increase their skills, it arguably limits the child's ability to gather evidence that challenges their fears about school.
Children's school worries are often centered around the unknown, the 'what if', some examples are:
'what if I don't like my new teacher?', 'how will I know where my classroom is?', 'what if I don't know anyone there?', 'who will I sit with at lunch', 'what if I miss the bus?', 'what if I cant do the school work'.
If your child is anxious about school, it can helpful to start to prepare for the return to school a week or two* before school starts. Some suggestions are as follows:
A week before school starts:-
- Start getting into the school routine by waking up early, eating breakfast and going to bed at regular times, explaining to your child(ren) that the whole family needs to adjust to the new schedule
- Create a list of items needed to get for school such as pencil case etc and go on a shopping trip together.
- Ask your child to help you plan the first weeks lunches
- Teach and practice coping skills by role modelling behaviours, when you see they are becoming anxious, engage in breathing exercises together such as; taking three big breaths in and out or perhaps use one of these FREE breathing exercise.
- Respond to your child, by acknowledging their feeling AND setting the boundary such as: 'I can see that going to school is making you feel scared but you still have to go, tell me what you're worried about so that we can talk it through'
- Incorporate mindfulness/relaxation activities at night, to help calm and relax the body and brain (see my blog for more ideas).
- Help your child to develop skills to problem solve, what it is they could do for example; if they didn't know where their classroom was at school, they could ask another child or teacher on duty, problem solving can help children to feel more empowered and in control of their experiences.
A couple of days prior to school starting:
- Do the school run a few times, whether its walking, driving or taking the bus. For children who are taking the school bus, it may be helpful to draw a little map of the bus route, including how long it takes to get to school.
- Walk around the school grounds if you can, to familarise the child with the area.
- Have your child try on their school uniform, to get used to the way it feels, including hat/ties etc.
- The night before school, help your child to pack their school bag and set out their school uniform.
- Place a reassuring note in a child’s lunchbox, this can help ease separation anxiety (see my blog re: separation anxiety for more ideas)
The first day of school:
- Inform the school/teacher of your child's concerns, so that they are aware of this.
- Be mindful of your own feelings about sending your anxious child to school and be sure to keep these in check, take some deep breaths, to calm yourself or speak to another adult about your own concerns.
- Have your child go to school with a friend, or meet them at the school gate, for the first couple of days.
- Use positive reinforcement and be sure to praise and reward your child for brave behaviour
*TIP If your child is highly anxious, starting a routine 1-2 weeks out from school might be too much time, therefore adjusting the timeframe to suit your child's needs, such as 3-4 days prior to school may be more appropriate.
If you have significant concerns about your child anxiety and well-being, be sure to contact a health professional, who can provide them with additional support, during this time.
Refs: Anxiety BC (2007-2017) Helping your child cope with back to school anxiety; K.Young (2015) Dealing with School Anxiety.
If you have siblings, you may well reflect on your own childhood and recall times where you felt great injustice; perhaps about having to always do 'baby things' because of your younger sibling(s), or living in constant fear of missing out. Maybe even now as an adult you still notice that subtle rise of competitiveness between you?!.
Competitiveness between siblings is not uncommon, however constant bickering, comparison and competition for your attention can be exhausting! Here is a great little article with 6 handy parenting tips, that may ease some of that tension.
It can be difficult for parents to strike the balance between ensuring your children are connected to extracurricular activities outside of school, to encourage social interaction, increased self- esteem and pursue interests, whilst also having some much needed down time.
This article shares an interesting perspective, as to whether as a society, our lives have become so busy and structured, that we are unintentionally forgetting that children also need downtime and an opportunity to just be and engage in free play.
Family separation and divorce can be an extremely complex and challenging time for everyone involved. Research shows that children can intrinsically feel that their parents separation or divorce is in someway their fault, it is therefore important that children are reassured that they are loved and the the family's changing dynamic is not their fault.
Following is a list of books and resources, that might be useful in helping to support your child, when navigating through this challenging time.
Recommended for children 3-7 years
Living with Mum and Living with Dad - by Melanie Walsh (2012) - a colourful picture book, with interactive lift pages which are ideal for younger children
Two Homes- by Claire Masurel (2003) - a simple book that looks at the positive aspects of having two homes.
Recommended for children 5-8 years
Mum and Dad Glue- by Kes Gray (2009) - written from the child's perspective, acknowledges child's feelings through family change, with a future focus.
The Invisible String - by Patrica Karst (2000) - helpful book to support separation anxiety
Recommended for children 4-11 years
Kids & Divorce App (2015). FREE App, available to download - an fun, interactive parent guided app, that discusses stages and transition of family change.
Just the Way We Are - by Jessica Shirvington (2015)- celebrates the diversity of family structures.
Recommended for children 8-12years
When my Parents Forgot How to Be Friends - by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos (2005) - helps to acknowledge some of the feelings/concerns experienced during transition.
TIP: it is recommended that parents read through all resources, prior to reading them to your child, to ensure the book is both age and context appropriate .
Fidget spinners have become the latest craze for school aged children, right across Australia. For some children these are a fun toy, that provide hours of entertainment and distraction, which has resulted in many schools having to ban these from the classrooms and the playground.
For other children however fidget toys such as stress balls, putty, stretchy items, fidget spinners can help with sensory processing, focus and attention and support emotional regulation.
So how do you know the difference?!? Occupational Therapist Kerri Wilmot explains the difference between a fidget item and a toy here
There thousands of incredible apps and websites, that can help with distraction, encourage learning, strategic thinking, increase coping skills and provide entertainment. When life becomes busy and stressful, it can sometimes be difficult to settle our body and quieten our minds, particularly in preparation for rest.
Following is a small selection of apps and sites that you may find useful, to encourage relaxation and a sense of calm, helping to settle the mind and body, at the end of a busy day.
If you've used any of these before or have other apps you've found useful, it would be great to hear from you.
Research has shown that taking a few deep breaths can help to calm the nervous system and make us feel more centred and relaxed.
Children are often introduced to a range of breathing techniques, to help support them with anxiety and at time of stress. It can be helpful for children to have a visual tool, to help them to remember some of the different types of breathing exercises they can do.
The team at Childhood 101 have created a FREE breathing exercise card , that can be printed off, for your child to keep in their workbook at school, or on their bedroom wall at home.
Every day we are surrounded by technology, hand held devices and television, as a parent it can be difficult to know how much time your child or young person should spend watching television or which programs they should be watching. You may also be left wondering, are there long term effects of watching too much TV and playing on devices? will they become increasingly anti-social?, or will I lose them for hours on end, to the world of technology?
This interesting article by Karen Young looks at some of the research behind children and television and provides some suggestions on how to view television time as an opportunity for you to connect with your child or young person.
Children can experience separation anxiety at different times throughout their development and for a range of reasons. It may be due to starting playgroup, preschool or school, going away to camp, to a friend’s place for a sleepover, staying over at mum or dad’s place if they live separately, or perhaps the child or a parent is in hospital.
Children need to feel secure and connected to their caregivers, especially when they are away from them. Here are 3 creative ideas which may help ease some anxiety.
Pocket Love (3 years and up*)
Many young children like to collect precious items, often seeking these from nature: stones, sticks, shells, leaves, clovers. If you can, spend time with your child collecting pebbles or small stones from the garden (or you can use shells). Choose ones that are small enough to fit into your pocket.
- Paint onto your chosen item with something that represents your love for your child, this could be a love heart, a word, or colours. Your child can create one too. (Use white acrylic paint for the base colour, so added colours will stand out)
- Explain to your child how your love passes into the stone or shell, you can hold it in your palm, even give it a kiss, telling them how much you love them. It can be helpful to carry it in your own pocket for a time, before giving it to your child, to take with them.
- When your child is away from you, they can keep it in their pocket, take it out to hold it and know that your love is with them.
TIP: It can be useful to make a few of these, if one goes missing, you always have a spare.
*Note: these are suggested age groups only and may vary depending on the individual child.
Invisible String (5 years and up)
A similar idea, instead using the concept of an invisible string*. A string that connects your hearts together and passes your love along the string, no matter where you are. It can be helpful to get a ball of string or wool, to use as a visual tool, when explaining this to your child.
- Give the end of the string to your child, get them to hold onto it, you hold the other end.
- You can even move yourself (unrolling the ball) into another room, with the string still connected, to show them how it works.
- Let your child know that you are always connected by an invisible string of love, no matter where they are. They could be at school, staying at a friends house, in bed, or even living a different house or city. It doesn't matter where the two of you are, you will always be connected through love.
- I often add to this by asking the child to imagine what the string between you looks like, is it made of string? Ribbon or fabric? Is it light or heavy? What colour is it? Or is it invisible? By asking your child to use their imagination in this way, it will help them, when they are away from you, to visualise the connection between you.
*The above is based on a book called ‘The Invisible String’, by Patrice Karste, which can be purchased from online bookstores.
Little Notes (children of reading age)
A quick and easy idea, put a little note into your child’s lunch box, inside their workbook, pencil case, or under their pillow. Let them know you love them, and you’re thinking of them. Tell them what makes you proud of them.