One statement that always reminds me of how precious time with our children is, actually relates to school years. Someone reminded me a while ago that we only have eighteen summer holidays with our children before they become adults and do whatever they want with their time. The first four/five summers after a child is born usually fly by, as we try to grasp the idea of parenting this new human. They start school before we know it, and we start looking forward to summer breaks as a rest from school runs. At the end of each summer holiday, we refocus with back-to-school shopping, re-establishing routines and the challenges of a new school year. Even if children are not changing schools or showing any signs of anxiety, it is important to pause and recognise that back-to-school day represents a promotion and significant achievement as children grow up and move on in life. Here a few tips for celebrating Back-to-School week and setting them up to succeed.
Preparation - I find that it is best to have a quieter week just before school starts, so you all feel rested. Arriving home from a holiday abroad the day before school resumes is not usually a good idea. Spend some time in the preceding days talking with your child(ren) about the last few weeks off school and what they have done/enjoyed in that time. You do not have to have spent a lot of money or travelled abroad to enjoy sharing summer holiday memories. You can talk about the people you got to see/visit, time in the park, activities you did together etc. I find it helpful to create a photobook of summer holiday memories for my children, which I often find them looking through on their own. You can also take them along for school uniform shopping, or go with them to get just one item after you have done most of it in peace! Taking part in the school resumption preparation helps prepare them mentally. They might want to choose a new school bag or stationery set, which makes them excited about the new class. You can also use the opportunity to remind them that education is a privilege some children around the world do not have, so they can learn to be grateful for their school, teachers and friends. Having the right attitude towards school is very important, if they are to enjoy school and succeed in life as educated people.
Acknowledgement - Children sometimes show anxiety in unusual ways, so be patient and sensitive. Even adults sometimes feel anxious about meeting new people or trying new things. Acknowledge what will be new/different about this class, and share as much information as you can to help children feel more prepared. Some schools arrange a transition day before the summer holidays begin, so children can meet their new teacher and see the new class in advance. Spend a few more minutes checking that your child has no specific worries you can help with, so that you are on the same page when celebrating the start of a new school year. Remind them of all they achieved in the previous year and how much you believe they can grow in the coming year. Parents often worry about pressurizing children with expectations to do well, but I find that children whose parents believe in and encourage them often do well, because they start believing in themselves too. Acknowledging the struggles of previous years and making plans to improve will also help children feel supported and empowered to do their best. You can leave an encouraging love note/card in their school bag or lunch box to make them smile on their first day back. Acknowledge also that it is a big day for you too, as a caring parent, and make plans to enjoy the day (at work/home) without worrying too much about your child(ren). Instead of thinking ‘What if she hates the new class?’, think ‘What if she loves it and does very well?’ Most children do!
Consistency - You have managed to entertain them all summer, you kept things calm the week before resumption, sorted clothes/bills/food etc, served a good breakfast and got them to school on time for their first day back - well done! Some parents may want to go all out and make a big deal after school to celebrate the first day back - which is fine, but don’t forget to keep up the positivity for the rest of the term. You might find that just getting to school on time for pick up, having time to really listen to the children after school and providing a nice ‘family dinner’ (as my daughter calls it), may be the only celebration they want. My cooking is not the best, but my children love it when we all sit together as a family for dinner. They like to hear about my day and sometimes ‘teach’ me what they learned at school. What children really want is a consistent, loving, trusted adult. Children change teachers almost every year, it is great to have a parent that is there for them no matter what. Don’t become too obsessed with finding out what happened in school on the first day - children will talk when you are generous with your time to them. If you do make a big deal about the first day back, try not to get carried away with your celebrations - children need to get enough sleep regularly for their concentration and development. Maintain a reasonable bedtime daily and plan fun activities for some weekends, if you can, to help you get through the term without burnout. The school years go by quickly. As Kurt Vonnegut said, let’s try to “enjoy the little things in life, for one day we will look back and realise they were the big things.”