PREP yourself for school

Posted on 02 March 2017 by Shanna White

Kindergarten student in uniform with family

While the first few weeks of a new school year probably brought excitement, structure and a return to household routine, perhaps it has also brought new anxieties coping with the demands of timetables, homework and school lunches!

It doesn't matter if a child has just started day care for the first time, started kindergarten, a new school, returned to an old school or moved to high school. The hurdles children and carers face can turn what should be a positive developmental experience into a potentially stressful event.

To help everyone manage the demands of the school/work routine, Shanna White, MacKillop’s Therapeutic Practitioner in Sydney, has some tips and tools following the PREP rule.

P - plan ahead. To avoid the morning rush, involve kids in the preparations such as making lunches the night before. Lay out clothes, create a list if a child is old enough. Make sure any changes are told to the children such as changes to transport to and from school. Structure and routine provide safety and security to all children, but especially children in care.

R - relax. Little bodies and brains need time to adjust themselves, especially new routines, new friends, new classes, new schools, new social situations and new responsibilities. Try not to commit to too much after school and make weekends peaceful and orientated to smaller activities such as board games, family walks and domestic maintenance.

E - evaluate. In the first few weeks or months of a new school year it is completely normal for a child to feel slightly stressed and anxious. However, ongoing or high levels of stress or anxiety can be a sign that a child needs the support and assistance of a carer but doesn't know how to ask. Some of the behavioural and physical indicators of stress and anxiety in children include:

  • Restlessness
  • Trouble thinking, concentrating or making decisions
  • Unexplained physical complaints such as tummy aches and headaches
  • Increased breathing or heart rate
  • Irritability or frustration
  • Loss of interest in normal activities
  • Change to sleep pattern (excessive tiredness or unable to sleep)
  • Change to appetite (excessive hunger or lack of hunger)

P - play. Help children in your care to enjoy the new school year. If they come home with a new interest, such as handball, pokémon or basketball, embrace this new activity. Let the child show you how to play or share your experience and skills with them so they can develop their skills. This playful sharing displays to children that you are invested in their lives and care about their day. This will increase the likelihood of them coming to you when then need the help of an adult and help the child to feel a sense of belonging and security in the home.

A big part of school is also extra-curricular activities. Most activities are excellent for children, such as learning a musical instrument, debating or joining a sports team. But it’s important to be mindful of a child's trauma history as in some cases, the physical or verbal nature of these activities can trigger negative reactions and responses. Should this occur, arrange a meeting with your case worker and have an open discussion between the case worker, yourselves as the carers, the child (if it is appropriate) and a facilitator of the activity.

Working with the MacKillop team can also help carers and children to navigate these hurdles together to ensure everyone is able to get the most out of the new school year.