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Getting off to a good start

Opinion

Starting school or going into a new class can be stressful for children and parents alike. Centacare’s parent education team asked parents what their successful strategies were for smoothing the transition, and their responses might surprise you.

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For young children taking the first big step to junior school, it can be making sure they have practical skills such as managing their clothing for toilet visits, doing up their shoes or wiping their nose.

Keeping lunch boxes manageable with finger food and fruit, and making sure children know which snack is for which break is another simple but important piece of advice parents gave.

Making friends is something most people worry about and some children fare better than others. Arriving at school 15 minutes before school starts provides an opportunity to establish relationships. That time before the bell rings can be when children determine who they talk to, play with or sit with and where to meet at break times. As one expert said, “kids who arrive by the seat of their pants will be too late to the party – these are often the children who live across the road from the school!”

Arranging playdates and staying in the playground with your child for a while after school can also help them to make friends and feel at ease.

It might sound like a no-brainer but children starting school need to get into a routine – earlier bedtimes will help with the early starts.

If a child is using Out of Hours School Care they need to know where to go and who to see when they get there. Helping a child get to know the staff and keeping promises about when they will be picked up avoids disappointment.

An adult’s confidence is contagious and a positive influence on children. Teachers are enormously helpful and should be the ‘go to’ person if a child is struggling with separation. Parents need to look after themselves as well in this regard and might need to plan something special for the first day.

For parents of children returning to school, managing change and negotiating friendship groups are key issues.

Changing teacher styles can be difficult for some children but getting along with different personalities is an important life skill. If a child is struggling, the parent needs to listen first, then encourage them to share their concerns and identify what role to play in solving these concerns.

Discussing the fun times and questions about the best part of their day or something that made them laugh can foster positive discussion.

Teachers are critical in providing the best school experience and effective communication with them is very important. Your child’s teachers do not have to be your best friends but they are important allies.

Help a child negotiate classroom issues practically by walking them through different approaches to solving problems is another strategy. Rehearsal often helps with identifying successful pathways.

Friendship groups change all the time during the primary years and watching a child struggle socially can be difficult for parents. (This is quite different from issues of bullying and abuse when parents must be strong advocates for their children).

Some children need help forming friendships: being interested in other people and listening to what they say are important skills which can be practised and modelled at home. Being helpful and friendly, recognising how other people might feel and understanding that friendships might take time to develop is useful information when children are negotiating the sometimes tangled web of relationships.

Once again, arriving at school early can ensure primary school children don’t ‘miss the party’.

A final word of advice: Don’t be afraid to share some of your own school experiences, the activities you enjoyed or things that you felt anxious about and overcame. And remember to stay positive and have fun with your child.

If you need extra support, Centacare Catholic Family Services provides counselling to parents, families and primary and secondary school students. Other support is provided through the National School Chaplaincy Program. For more information phone 8215 6700.

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