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Yup, summer is gone, folks, and school “daze” are here. Unlike other schools in other parts of the Philippines, most schools here in my hometown start in August. Like it or not, it’s time for both parents and kids to shuttle back to reality and prepare for another school term. Some welcome the challenge. I cringe at the prospect. In either case, the transition from vacation time to school days can be one of the most stressful times of the year for grownups and children alike. Aside from all the fuss and hassle of buying schoolbooks and uniforms, there’s also the need to shed summer routines and adjust to a new schedule – something easier said than done, for many. For first time schoolers, the thought of being on their own in an alien environment can be daunting; facing the unknown or unfamiliar can be a source of anxiety even for adults. More often than not, this same anxiety is what makes older kids say they hate going back to school. What can we do to prepare ourselves and our kids for the dreaded school days? Well, first of all, don’t worry so much. Things are never – and we mean never – as bad as we think. I hope. But for those who feel like reaching for the panic button, here are a few tips that might help.
Unlearn and learn
Both mind and body need time to learn new things or routines and unlearn unwanted ones. When to sleep, when to wake up…you know, our usual routine. Our brains need time and practice to physiologically build and strengthen new neural behavior patterns to supersede old one and our body clock need several days, at least, to reset to a new schedule. This is why it is always a good idea to set aside the week before school as a transition period for your parent. Enforce, perhaps, gradually, an earlier bedtime than they’ve gotten used to during summer, as well as a firm “No TV, Gadgets or Night Out” rule that would keep them up late. This will help them to adjust and to master the “new normal” and be ready to hit the ground running come the big day. For first time schoolers, child psychiatrists suggest role playing, in which you can rehearse with your child what would happen on the first day of school, such as how you would say your goodbyes at the door or meeting the teacher and classmates for the first time. You can reverse roles (kids love playing grownup roles) to make it more fun and insightful for both you and your child.
Check out the school.
Anxiety feeds on fear of the unknown. By familiarizing your kid with the new surroundings in advance, you take away some of the many question marks that come with the first day of school. Knowing what the classroom looks like, the things they can do in the playground, where the potty place is, where you will be waiting for him at the end of the school day – things grownups don’t think about are all critical to them. Take a leisurely tour of the entire place with your child, ask questions and get to know yourself what you’re paying good money for. Do they have, for example, fire extinguishers, and do they work? Are there danger spots or questionable establishments around the school that you and your kid should be aware of? Even for back to school kids and older students, it’s always a good idea to check out your school to see in advance what’s new and what’s changed. Get to know your new teachers or professors and letting them get to know you ahead of the others.
Talk it out.
A good heart to heart talk with your child or teenager before school starts is always a very good idea. And by talk, we mean listen. Give your son or daughter ample chance to express his or her fears and anxieties about going back to school. More often than not, their apprehensions have simple enough explanations and solutions. Just remember to really listen to what your child is saying. Don’t interrupt or dismiss his or her fears with a quick “Nonsense, you will be fine.” and strive to read between the lines. Experts advise that it is better to validate your child’s fears and explain to him or her that it is normal to feel that way. Everybody does – even parents and teachers. Help your child focus on the positive or exciting, such as seeing old friends or a favorite teacher and meeting new ones. A good chat is also an opportunity for you to discover any underlying problem that may need extra or special attention, such as a bully at school or a heretofore undiagnosed learning issue like poor eyesight or even a more serious learning disorder.
Make it exciting.
Let your child participate in the preparations. It is, after all, all about him or her. Letting your kids have their choice when shopping for schoolbags or lunchboxes let them have some sense of control over what’s going to happen at school and reduce anxieties. It may need a little deft maneuvering to steer them towards the right price range, but you know what we mean. Letting them express their personalities through their choice of covering materials for books and notebooks, for instance, makes going to school a lot more fun and exciting. Besides, it will save you the heartbreak of seeing their disappointed faces when you come home with stuff they don’t like. Going back to school or for the first time is a family milestone, so to make it a happy and memorable one. Remember that kids take their cues from your own attitudes and anxieties, so rather than worry and fret about all the hassles involved, drum up excitement in the family and make it a positive experience for everyone. You can take a snapshot of your child trying on his or her new school uniform. Some families make plans to celebrate the first day of school with cake or a big dinner to make the happy experience more memorable.
Take your pick.
Give your children, especially your teenagers, sensible tips on how to get a good head start. Remind them to always pick a good seat in class, if possible. They don’t want to be stuck the whole year or semester in a lousy spot where you can hardly hear the lecture or barely read what’s on the board. Make them imagine the classroom as being a cinema or concert hall and have them and their friends come early on the first day of class so they can stake a claim on the choice center seats near the front where both ends of the board can be seen clearly. Speaking of friends, your kid doesn’t want to to get stuck with a lousy study or lab partner, either, so it would be smart –literally and figuratively – to gravitate early to the smart and responsible ones in school and avoid negative influences. Also, remind them that the friends they make in school usually end up being friends for life, so their choice better be good ones. So relax everyone, everything’s under control. The start of the school year can be hectic and stressful, but fun, pleasant and exciting, as well, and never as bad as we fear.