By Kate Thompson
It is looking likely that most children in the UK will be returning to school in September. Many of these children have not set foot in school since March, and for the youngest of these children, September will be their very first experience of primary school. So, how can we, as parents and carers, soften the transition for them? And what role can picture books play?
Read on for my top tips to help children prepare for going back into the classroom…
1. Talk to children about school
Every child is different. Some will be desperate to get back to school to see their friends and teachers, whereas other children may be more anxious or scared about the change. Having a calm discussion about school allows you to discover what, if any, extra support children may need in the lead up to September.
- Avoid asking children negative leading questions, such as “Are you nervous about school?” If they weren’t nervous before you asked the question, they may well be afterwards!
- Instead, try to phrase questions positively, for example “What are you most excited about?” or neutrally, “Do you have any questions about school? We can find out the answers together!”
- Try including school-based picture books in your story times, so that your children get used to hearing about school in a positive way. This also provides them with lots of opportunities to ask questions and talk about their feelings.
2. Help children identify their feelings
Help your child to understand and identify their feelings. Developing an emotional vocabulary empowers children to talk about their feelings and to seek help when they need it. This is helpful in every area of life, not just in the run up to the return to school.
You can do this by:
- Talking to children about how you’re feeling and showing them how you deal with those feelings.
- Listening to children when they communicate how they’re feeling, whether through their words or behaviour.
- Taking their feelings seriously. Never dismiss or ridicule them. Children need to feel comfortable talking about their feelings, otherwise there is a risk that they will express their emotions in less positive ways.
- Sharing picture books together and discussing how the characters feel. This gives children the freedom to explore a whole range of emotions from the safety of their own home.
3. Use picture books to explore feelings
Picture books help children to see that other children (or, in some cases, dinosaurs or superheroes!) sometimes feel sad, worried or scared too. Through these stories children experience these characters dealing with their own issues and coming out the other side. This is not only incredibly reassuring and empowering for children, but it also provides a great opportunity to talk with them about the issues raised in the story.
Fortunately, there has recently been a huge increase in the number of picture books available to help with children’s emotional wellbeing. Trigger Publishing has even created a new children’s imprint, Ups!de Down Books, dedicated to creating comforting, nurturing, playful, and humorous books that focus on mental health issues, while also promoting positivity, emotional intelligence, and wellness for children. I am proud to be publishing my debut authored picture book, Superheroes Don’t Get Scared, with them.
4. Try to de-mystify school
Children are likely to have questions about what school will be like, particularly in the wake of lockdown. This uncertainty can cause anxiety and fear for some children, so it is important to talk through what to expect in September and do your best to answer any questions. Other things that may help include:
- Share picture books about starting school, or simply those set in school environments. This is particularly helpful for children due to start school for the first time, who may have missed out on taster days due to partial school closures. You can use these books as a starting point for gently talking about any changes that may have been introduced to the school routine as a result of Covid19.
- Take a drive or socially distanced walk to their school to familiarise them with the journey and the exterior of the school buildings and playground.
- Encourage your child to practise dressing in their uniform, wearing their shiny new shoes and changing into their PE kit. This will help them feel more comfortable in these clothes, take away any anxieties about getting changed at school, and may even get them excited about wearing them ‘for real’.
- Visit the school website to look at photographs showing the activities children do at school. There may even be a photograph of their new teacher and classroom. Anything that helps takes the mystery out of school will help the transition.
5. Give your child some control
If your child is feeling anxious or scared about school, try giving them ownership and control over something. For example, could they choose their own special school lunchbox or school bag? Perhaps they could be in charge of choosing the bedtime stories at the end of the day (even if that does mean that you end up reading the same book for the hundredth time that week!)
6. Create A Daily Routine
Creating a daily routine for before and after school can help reduce anxiety by making children feel more stable and secure. You could even get your child involved in creating it! Try to include a quiet time each day when you are available to talk with your child in a relaxed environment. Story time is great for this.
7. Celebrate and praise your child
Last but not least, make sure that you celebrate any steps your child takes towards facing their fears or worries. This is not just positive reinforcement, they really do deserve it!
Kate Thompson is the author of Superheroes Don’t Get Scared, which has been illustrated by Clare Elsom. Superheroes Don’t Get Scared is an awesome rhyming tale about normalising fear and finding inner powers by realising there’s a hero inside of us all. It will be published in the UK on 3rd September.