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Back to school: Helping families plan and prepare

Back to school time is just around the corner; are you and your child emotionally ready?

Dr Stephen Stathis, Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist with Queensland Health, said starting school can be an emotionally turbulent time for children. 

"Children who are just starting school will feel a range of emotions, from excitement to nervousness, to resentment at having to make a change; for example, separation from parents."

"Because they may not be able to communicate these feelings, there are behaviours parents can look out for to help them understand how their child may be feeling."

Dr Stathis said being clingy, restless, pushing the boundaries, throwing tantrums, sleeping problems, and withdrawing are all common behaviours that can occur in the first few months of starting school.

"It is important for parents to remain consistent with their parenting throughout this phase."

"I also recommend parents focus on talking about their feelings to help children be able to name or describe their own emotions.

"For example, using more adjectives to express your emotions such as; ‘I’ve lost my car keys and that makes me feel very frustrated".

"Even discussing how story book characters may be feeling during story time is another good tactic."

"Then by spending a bit of special time with the child where they feel relaxed and comfortable will encourage them to open up about what they are feeling."

Dr Stathis said starting school wasn’t just a big deal for children, but for the entire family.

"Parents also have a big adjustment to make and their own feelings to consider, as well as their child’s."

"Identifying and recognising your feelings is important in helping a person to manage but also in helping the child to manage their feelings as well.

Parents can act as good role models by using positive talk and body language to influence the feelings children develop about starting school.

"Finding time to relax and process your emotions will go a long way in helping a parent and child feel confident about starting school."

Dr Stathis also recommended planning for the new school routine as soon as possible.

"Not only does planning provide us with a sense of control, the process will help parents identify the available support services such as before and after school care."

"Being engaged with the school will help parents to build contacts with these support services as well as other parents, who are probably dealing with the same issues and feelings."

Dr Stathis said the first year of school could be a trying time for everyone, but that parents should try to remain confident.

"If at any point a parent doesn’t feel as confident as they once were they should definitely reach out, whether that is through their personal networks, through the school, or through their GP."

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Last updated: 15 January 2015