Many children and youths are likely anxious about going back to school after the December holidays. Who can blame them? Six weeks of “playing mode” is bound to make it difficult to go back to “studying mode”. I know many of my students are still in the former!
Parents, you’re probably getting kancheong too, finding ways to normalise your child’s body clock while nagging at them to complete their homework by New Year’s Day. I can almost hear one of you asking, “How do I make my child sleep by 10pm?” or “What should I do if my kids still haven’t finished their homework?”
Almost every parent will face this situation. This is a phase virtually every child goes through after the December holidays, whether they’re moving on from Primary 4 to Primary 5, or from Secondary 3 to Secondary 4. In fact, there are many things you should do and many things you should be aware of, prior to your child’s first day of going back to school.
But parents, you don’t need to hear all of that from me. There are already many great articles out there that discuss these topics (the above two are fantastic examples).
Instead, what I’m going to discuss is how you should get your child ready on a more innate, emotional level—because that will provide your child with the drive to get through the next four terms of school with as minimal stress as possible. Emotional stability will help your child overcome adversity on his/her own. It is essential to your child’s development.
So, sit back, put on your reading glasses, and start taking notes, because we’re going to dive into insights you’ve probably never considered seriously before.
1. Teach them to put on long-term lenses
When the school term starts, most children aren’t going to think, “Oh boy, the school term has started, time to prove myself again this year!” Rather, they will most likely be thinking, “Ok, how can I survive this week?” It’s like living day-to-day without a purpose or goal.
The problem with this is that it can make schooling life seem even more mundane. This is particularly so for students whose interests and talents lie elsewhere. The days and hours will pass more slowly, and without something to look forward to, students who get restless easily will turn to the next best thing that can give them a kick. This can be something as harmless as video games, or something potentially detrimental like mixing with bad company.
The solution to this? Teach your child to think long-term, to consider the “big picture”. Guide them towards developing a broader perspective of the year ahead; instill in them a sense of purpose, to work towards big dreams. This will give them much to look forward to, which in turn will steel them for the challenges ahead.
For example, you might want to have a sit-down with your child. Flip open a calendar, and look back at the previous year with them. Ensure that you’re in an environment that is peaceful and zen. Discuss how fast time has passed, and reflect on how much your child has matured.
Then, move on to the current year (which is 2019 in this case). Discuss what he/she will be going through for the rest of the year, and where he/she will be the following year (2020). Talk about what skills they would like to acquire, and get them to (casually) think about how they can get there.
By doing so, you are not just bonding with your child—you are also getting them to project and visualise their future selves. When they eventually achieve the milestones that they had projected, they will become more metacognitive and reflective (Coutinho, 2007). It makes it easier for them to see the bigger picture. In the long run, this also turns them into more confident young people who are capable of taking on newer, bigger responsibilities.
2. Engage in positive, meaningful discussions
“Sigh, I have to wake up early tomorrow to go to school.”
This is what many students will be thinking the night before the start of the first school week. While this is normal and even inevitable (I mean, which adult doesn’t dread it when their overseas trip comes to an end?), it can have a negative impact on how the student will view and adjust to the rest of the academic term (Wang, 2010)
One way to address this problem is to engage your child in meaningful and positive conversations before the start of the school week. You could talk about the upcoming BTS concert for example, or cool places that the family can visit one day (like the Cat Cafe). You could even just have a heart-to-heart talk with them to provide reassurance.
Any topic will do, so long as it instills in your child a sense of positivity, and to remind him/her that there’s a wider world out there beyond school. By engaging in positive, meaningful discussions, you’re not just reducing your child’s anxiety of going to school. You’re also taking their minds off the very thought that is bothering and creating unnecessary stress for them.
By the way, this is why I share such a close relationship with many of my students, and why my classes often have such a positive vibe. I can discuss nearly anything under the sun with the kids, and they with me.
3. Plan for the upcoming weekend
The first week of school can be the hardest week for students to get through, particularly for those transitioning to a new school or class. There are around 300 days ahead, with the end seemingly nowhere in sight.
This is a simple but powerful process. It helps to remind your child that the world—not school—is their oyster.
That’s 300 days of going through the motion. Naturally, just the thought of starting the school year can feel overwhelming. Even as working adults, we shrink back when we think about an entire new year ahead with only 14 to 21 days of leave.
One of the oldest tricks in the book to help alleviate this sense of the long year ahead is to give your kids a weekend plan to look forward to. This doesn’t have to be an elaborate plan. It might not even involve you or the outdoors.
What this involves, however, is you sitting down with your child to discuss and acknowledge the potential anxieties that he/she might have about the coming school week, and then discussing what they can look forward to for the upcoming weekend. It can be anything, including gaming and spending quality time with old friends. What’s important is to create a short-term goal for your child, in the same way that it’s important to have long-term goals as mentioned above.
This is a simple but powerful process. It helps to remind your child that the world—not school—is their oyster. Yes, they’ll spend most of their week in school, but a solid weekend plan gives them something to look forward to, even as they go through the motion.
4. Explore potential interests outside of school
Learning shouldn’t just be confined within the school walls. Discuss with your child other potential areas of interest that he/she can explore and venture into. Examples include LEGO, programming, 3D modelling, miniature painting, archery, martial arts, parkour, and other cool activities that the school may not provide as CCAs.
Note that you don’t have to feverishly plough through online directories like BeeCraft or KiasuParents in hopes of finding something that your child will like. Instead, treat your child like a young adult, and talk it out with them. It’s a good way to get to know your child better too.
Nor should you rush to sign your child up for a programme. Make a list of things your child might be interested in, and keep it in view. Gradually, have them narrow down their list of options. The key here is to give them something to look forward to. Academics are important, but they should not be the defining reason for your child’s interest in picking up new things.
As with having positive and meaningful discussions with your child, this helps to divert some of that negativity that they’ll be having during the first week of school. It might even be a topic that they can talk to their peers about when school reopens. Double win!
On a sidenote, some children may end up having multiple short-lived interests. If your child is like that, don’t worry. Just keep at it: most will eventually find something that they can be super passionate about.
5. Skim through the syllabus with your child
This one is slightly different from the previous suggestions, but should you have the opportunity, go through the potential topics that your child will be learning for the year. Run them through the following:
- The number of topics that will be covered for a particular subject;
- The complexity of the topics;
- How much time it would take to possibly master each subject.
For math- and science-based subjects, this is more straightforward. For example, at the upper primary level, one of the topics taught is Factors and Multiples, which would roughly take a couple of days for a student to pick up and fully comprehend.
English Language and humanities-based subjects like Social Studies are less straightforward. However, the nice thing about these subjects is that they rely more on answering techniques than rote memorisation. Typically, my students spend less time studying for EL and humanities subjects than they do math and science.
Skimming through the syllabus with your child gives them the gist of what will be covered for the year. While this doesn’t necessarily reduce their stress or anxiety towards the first day of school, it will help them to better understand what lies ahead, and how they can better manage their schedule and expectations.
Long story short: prepare your child for school by helping them to find meaning beyond it
As you would have no doubt concluded by now, what most of these suggestions have in common is that they encourage your child to find meaning beyond the boundaries of school, so that they can be emotionally ready for school itself. In being able to see the big picture, in finding positive connections, and in having ideals and dreams to look forward to, your child will be less caught up with the negative “What ifs” of returning to school.
Indeed, positivity, optimism, and achievable goals will provide your child with the initial drive needed to gain momentum over the next few weeks. A child that is emotionally prepared for school is one who will have a smoother start and, therefore, a more fulfilling learning experience too. What better way is there to start the academic year?
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