Back to school: How to set your child up for a positive year

It’s a new year, and after two years of disrupted learning, anxieties are running high as kids head back to the classroom. But here are some ways to help smooth the transition.

Covid-19 has played havoc with every aspect of our lives, including our children’s schooling.

Back-to-school jitters are normal, but after the uncertainty of the past two years, many children – and their parents – will probably be feeling more anxious than usual.

Psychologist and PhD candidate at Monash University Alexandra Marinucci says this year’s return to school is likely to bring a mix of emotions for children, from excitement at seeing friends to anxiety about being back in the classroom.

Here’s how you can help make the fresh start easier for your child.

Validate your child’s emotions

Alexandra recommends talking to your child about what to expect and listen to their concerns.

“The start of the school year can be a challenging time of transition for students, so it is important to validate and normalise any emotions surrounding the return to school,” she says.

“Preparing students by talking about the return to school and what this will look like will help students ease back into the learning environment.”

Focus on fun

Macquarie University educational psychology Associate Professor Penny Van Bergen says to keep the conversation positive by focussing on the fun aspects of heading back to school.

“It’s normal for students to express some uncertainty through big life changes,” she says.

“Coach children to reframe their concerns rather than reinforce them.

“Approach the conversation with optimism, encourage them to think about things that are within their control, and reflect on the things they are looking forward to.”

Build excitement by getting kids involved in selecting school supplies, visiting the school playground and talking about the fun they will have with their friends.

Increase social interaction

Tapping into social opportunities before the start of the school year can also help kids feel more at ease about returning to the classroom.

“If you know families of children in the same class, you might consider catching up before school starts,” Assoc Prof Van Bergen says.

“Even a simple play date in the park can help ease the nerves and help children re-establish some of their old friendship groups.”

Set up school routines

In the week or two leading up to the start of school, re-establish or renegotiate school routines to make the transition easier.

“This might mean returning to normal bedtimes, reducing screen time, and so on,” Assoc Prof Van Bergen says.

Should you worry about learning gaps?

Many parents are concerned about the likely long-term impacts of disrupted learning.

Following the first year of the pandemic UNESCO estimated over 100 million additional children worldwide could fall below the minimum proficiency level in reading.

Although you may be concerned your child has fallen behind, it’s important to take things slowly and allow your child to settle back into the classroom at their own pace.

“Most students will bounce back academically,” Assoc Prof Van Bergen says.

If you are worried your child may be experiencing significant learning gaps or anxiety about the return to school, seek advice from a professional, such as your child’s teacher, school counsellor or GP.

“Whether it is a smaller problem or a bigger one, professional support is always valuable,” Assoc Prof Van Bergen says.

Written by Dimity Barber.