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Beat back-to-school nerves

Schoolgirls writing
Many children feel a bit nervous about the start of a new school year, but for some, the jitters continue beyond the first few days. Here’s how to help your child de-stress if they’re finding going back to school a struggle.

‘She had a bad time last year’

Whether it was because of academic pressures, friendship problems or teacher issues, a difficult academic year can have ongoing effects. A good tactic is to big-up the things that make school great: a forthcoming class trip, or the Christmas disco that’s already on the calendar.

‘If your child had problems with friendships, arrange some play dates early in the term so she has friends to turn to if things get tough,’ says teacher Jill Kelsey. Asking the teacher to keep an eye on things can also reassure your child that people are looking out for her.

If her tension was because of academic problems, be available in the first weeks of term to help with homework. Ask her what she’s finding difficult – but, equally, what she’s doing well at. Praise and positive thinking will build her self-esteem.

‘It’s her first year at (really) big school’

Much of the stress of starting secondary school can be relieved by being organised, so help your child by familiarising yourself with her timetable, ensuring she has the right books and equipment each morning, and finding out what homework she’ll get and when. Equip her with skills for making new friends, too, by encouraging her to smile and make eye contact, and practising a few icebreakers.

Give your child some quality time each evening, talking about how the day went. Don’t just focus on academic achievements; ask her what she did in art or PE, or if she met any new people.

Finally, make sure she’s eating well and getting enough sleep to boost her mental and physical energy. ‘Alice struggles to sleep if her mind is busy, so I give her a head and neck massage before bed to help her relax,’ says Helen Crompton, mum to Alice, 12.

‘He’s worried about the workload’

Some children feel overwhelmed by a new school year and a bigger workload, particularly when moving from Reception to Key Stage 1, and KS1 to KS2. ‘Talk through the changes, such as more reading or longer homework activities, and discuss when you’ll get them done,’ suggests Jill. ‘A timetable where he can tick off tasks will show him that he still has time to play or watch TV.’

Give your child some downtime after school before tackling homework, and break tasks down into manageable chunks. Avoid too many after-school activities until you’ve worked out how much homework time he’ll need; having to rush through it could stress him out. Also, make sure the environment is right. ‘My daughter can’t concentrate in the kitchen, so we got a new desk for her bedroom, and she feels very grown-up working in there,’ says Mel Greening, mum to Emily, nine.

If classwork is causing problems, talk to him regularly about where he’s struggling and look for activities to do at home to improve specific skills: baking together, for example, could improve numeracy through weighing and measuring ingredients. If his worries continue, speak to the teacher to identify whether he needs extra help or is simply lacking confidence.

‘She’s moving to a new school’

Moving school and making new friends is always nerve-wracking. Find out who your child has been playing with at school, so you can invite those children round to play. After-school clubs could also help her integrate with other children outside the classroom, and build her familiarity with the school itself.

‘To reassure your child, try sending a little note in her lunch box each day with a joke or a message to make her smile, and give her a small comfort object to take with her, such as a cuddly key ring on her bag,’ suggests Jill. Asking the teacher for a timetable of the school day can be helpful, too; if your child is familiar with the new routine, she’ll feel more grounded.

Remind her too that her old friends haven’t forgotten her. ‘We arranged a sleepover with Scarlett’s best friends from her old school at half-term; it gave her something to look forward to,’ says Sarah Parsons, mum to Scarlett, eight.

‘He doesn’t like his teacher’

Most schools have a resident ‘ogre’ who children dread being taught by. ‘Try to find out why your child doesn’t like his teacher,’ advises Jill. ‘Often, it’s because they’ve seen the teacher telling someone off, or have heard stories from other children. Be positive about the teacher in front of your child: “I bet Mrs Smith loves having you in her class as you’re so good at art…”’

If your child remains unhappy, consider talking to the teacher. ‘I went to see my son’s teacher when he started saying he was stupid because he never got stickers,’ says Emma Berry, mum to Josh, six. ‘It was a complete oversight; she was very apologetic and Josh came home with a sticker the next day.’

Sometimes, a child just doesn’t warm to a certain teacher. In this case, try to smooth out areas of conflict, for example by making sure your child understands his teacher’s rules and expectations, and give lots of praise and attention at home. And don’t get drawn into criticising the teacher yourself; instead, focus on what has gone well during the day, and how he can make things better tomorrow.

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