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Supporting your child with the transition back to school

As we near the end of the summer holidays, we begin to think about endings, transitions, and changes. Transitions, however, occur through all stages of life - transitioning from milk to food, a bed to a cot, nappies to toilets, and then as we get older transitioning between classes, schools, jobs, and relationships. Although transitions and change are inevitable, they are often met with anxiety and a degree of fear, even by adults who understand the need for change. ‘Fear of the unknown’ is, to some degree, a universal experience. However, there are many practical ways in which you can support your children heading back to school. Easing their return back to school after the summer break is a great place to start.

3 kids in red sweaters
  • Time warnings

Nobody likes things sprung on them at the last minute, and the same can be said for children experiencing any sort of change. Give your child time to process change, and in an age-appropriate way, help them understand timescales. This can be in the form of a sand timer, visual daily or weekly timetable, or just discussing upcoming events with older children, allowing them time to prepare.

Give your child access to something they can visually see, not only the start day getting closer, but also how many days of school there might be until the weekend when they can plan something fun to do.

  • Autonomy / control over the situation.

Feeling out of control can be a very uncomfortable experience. Providing children with some say over how transitions happen can ease some of their discomforts. This can be choosing whether they hold your hand as they enter their new school or letting them choose a nice activity to do with you after their first day. Something little for them to feel familiar with and in control of can significantly shift their focus from feeling out of control.

  • Reassurance

Leaving somewhere familiar / starting somewhere new can be daunting and unsettling. As parents, we often try to ‘sell’ the back to school experience as exciting. Whilst being positive and encouraging is fundamental to easing our children’s anxiety, it is also important to give them an opportunity to share their concerns and fears with us. Children often fear practical issues surrounding transitions – where will they have lunch? How will they get there? Etc. Do not underestimate the emotional upheaval of changing classrooms, leaving a setting, or even trying a new extra-curricular activity. Spend time discussing your child’s fears and reassuring them that it is okay to feel scared – it doesn’t mean that the change is bad!

  • Model transitioning

As parents, we too experience transitions on a regular basis. It is important to process these with your child and model how to handle uncomfortable feelings and anxieties. ‘I went somewhere new for the first time today and I was a little nervous as I had never been before. When I got there, I felt great as I was proud that I did it.’ Children are sponges who absorb everything they see. Let them see you experiencing transitions and show them how you manage.

  • Help your child prepare

Whether it is doing a practice run of a new journey, looking at pictures of a new school, or even finding opportunities for your child to socialise with new friends, help your child prepare for the new transition in as many ways as you can. For young children in particular, physically preparing in advance can help get them in the right mindset. Try on the school uniform, and get the book bag out the week before school starts back. These activities will help to ease them into this transition.

  • Make school exciting

If your child focuses on the ‘unknown’ nature of their return to school, help them reframe this to be exciting. ‘We don’t know everything about what to expect, but that’s ok, we love surprises!’

A quick and easy tip to get your child excited about their return to school is through investing in something new and exciting they’re keen to use. Whether it’s new school shoes, a new pencil case, a new haircut, or a lunchbox, having a tangible item also gives them something to talk about and show their friends.

  • Managing emotions

For those starting in the education system for the first time, reading a book about this can be a great way to explain what your child can expect from school or nursery. Reading can help process the different emotions your child might have about this transition. Whether they’re nervous or excited, The Book Trust has an extensive list of books that are perfect for preparing your little one for that big step.

At Role Models, we are passionate about supporting children in their ability to face various challenges. We deliver a range of courses on topics such as confidence, resilience, and problem solving. We aim to support children, and parents in developing ‘life skills’, enabling them to truly succeed.

Louise, our Director of Character Education, has previously put together five tips on how to return to school with confidence. You can view the full clip below:

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