Category Archives: Back to School

Back to School – Managing emotions

Do you remember that ‘Back to School’ feeling?
A mixture of excitement, fear, trepidation, uncertainty and curiosity.

Maybe you still even feel it a bit now on Sunday nights, or at the end of a period of extended leave before you go back to work.  Physically going back to work, is going to be a huge shift for many of us over the coming months.

In my house we are currently having a lot of conversations about change and sharing emotions as 3 of my 4 children are transitioning to new stages. 

If you want some practical tips on the preparation for going back to school, you can find them here in a previous blog post. https://www.educatingmatters.co.uk/blog/category/secondary-school/

With my 4th child starting secondary school, it marks the end of an era. 17 years of doing the school run.

I wanted to focus on the emotional implications.

How do you feel when your child reaches a big milestone?
Starting school, starting university, officially leaving home – People keep asking me how I feel!

To be honest I feel excited about all the opportunities the next phase brings. I regard the main job for parents, as being to raise an adult. So this is just part of that journey.

With all my children I am doing my best to nurture their:
🙌 Independence
🤷‍♀️ Creative thinking
😊 Emotional Intelligence
🙋🏻‍♂️ Social skills

Children feed off our emotions. My daughter understandably felt quite scared, nervous and uncertain the past few days. I tried my best not to dismiss or talk her out of feeling that way. I just wanted to give her a space to sit with those emotions by acknowledging and empathising.

Being an ’emotional container vessel’ for your child takes lots of practice and I am still learning on the job!



Ask your child to tell you 3 feelings they have about returning to school. 

Then, ask why they feel each thing.
For instance, if they say “Excited, scared, nervous” you might respond “Excited, and scared, and nervous. Tell me about excited.”
Be relaxed in your facial expression and body, get down to your child’s level, perhaps hold or touch them and just listen.
Ask your child to describe where in their body they feel those emotions.

Acknowledge the feelings:

Your goal is not to talk your child out of the fear or worry, which will just make them feel dismissed or alone with the feeling. Instead, offer empathy and understanding.
“That is a scary thought. Tell me more.”
It is important to show your child that all feelings are acceptable and it is safe to share their feelings without judgement. Validate and normalise their feelings and experience. Here are some ideas
 “You feel worried about returning to school. You don’t know what to expect. I can see you’re so excited to go to school and see everyone”

Empower:

“It might feel scary on the first day or for the first few weeks. What would help you to feel more prepared. How can I help you?  What could you do to help yourself?”

Help problem-solve:

Instead of just reassuring your child, empower them by problem-solving.  Let them come up with solutions.  “How are you going to remember what to bring in on which day?  What is a good way to go up to someone and ask if you can play with them?  What happens if a stranger speaks to you on the bus?”



Other practical ideas to provide time and space for emotions

5minute ritual of connection at the beginning and end of the day, in their bed or on the sofa, giving 100% of your attention and love.

Role play different scenarios with your child, especially those they feel uncertain or worried about.  Such as walking up to say hello to a new child in the playground, separating from you at the school gate or meeting a new teacher.  It is so powerful to act out real-life situations, to problem solve, practice social skill, and build an image of what something might look or feel like when it actually happens. 

Storytelling whether that is reading a book about a child going to school or actually telling the story of a new, scary situation.  If your child can make up the narrative, it will help them build  a visual picture in their head and process their emotions.

Adjustment to change can take a good few weeks or months.  Let your children know this is totally normal and to be expected.   Wishing you a smooth transition back into the office (if you are going) and a smooth transition for your children back to school.

Adapting to change as we transition back to a more familiar life

Managing change is something we have always needed to prepare our children for in the past.  Living through a pandemic has demonstrated that as human beings, we are incredibly adaptable.  Almost overnight adults had to adjust to working from home and children had to adjust to schooling at home.  This period of limited social interaction and essentially having our lives on hold, has been an incredibly challenging time for a whole host of reasons.

As the world starts to open up, the next big change is supporting families on the road back to some sense of normality.  Young children especially are used to having their parents physically present at home and may not remember anything different pre-covid.  Older children have got into the habit of seeing us around before and after school (even if we were locked away in a room).  

How can we help our children manage adapting as we transition back to a more familiar life and change in general, irrespective of their age?

Be proactive, not reactive


Focus much more on pre-empting problems and planning so things go right, rather than reacting after they have gone wrong.  Our job as parents is to try and set things up from the start so our children can succeed, rather than just crossing our fingers and hoping for the best. Particularly when it comes to managing change.

Be very clear about your rules and expectations


You know your child better than anyone else and you can probably anticipate some of the tricky areas that cause either you or your child to get upset.  It could be the morning routine, separating from you, completing homework if you are at work, use of screens, bedtime, table manners, social life etc. When something is bothering you about your child’s behavior and they are being uncooperative, it could be due to a lack of consistency and even you as the parent may not be clear what the rules or routines are.  Sit down with you child and make sure they know what changes are on the horizon and your expectations.  Establish rules, boundaries or a routine for any problem areas.  Involve your child in creating these and then follow through consistently.  For young children in particular, it’s helpful to have visual reminders of what they need to do independently so you are not repeating yourself.

Think through


Talk through any situations, events or changes to the usual routine in advance so your child understands what is happening and what to expect.  This shouldn’t be a lecture but just a short chat where your child does most of the talking. Telling you in detail what’s going to happen, what they need to do and anticipating how they might feel.  This is also really useful if you have introduced a new rule or routine, keep talking it through as a reminder of what the expectation is before it happens.  For example, “In 2 weeks time, I will go back to travelling into work 3 days a week. Who will be picking you up from school? How will you feel about that?” 

Role play


This is a fabulous strategy, for all ages who learn more by doing.  Role play things like getting ready for bed, walking into a new after school club where you don’t know anyone, getting dressed quickly, turning off the Ipad the first time you are asked etc.

Break tasks down into manageable chunks


This helps situations feel less overwhelming.  You also need to be realistic about your child’s tempo which is probably vastly different to yours.

Solution time/ Family meetings


If there is change on the horizon, (like the transition to nursery, school or university) an ongoing problem or area of conflict in your family, set some time to sit down together to discuss it and find solutions.  Don’t spend too long explaining or arguing about what the problem is.  The focus should be on engaging the children in compromising and coming up with ideas to solve it.  Get the children to do the thinking (my 4 are certainly more creative than I am), show respect for their thinking and write their ideas down.  For example if you are really fed up with arguing and nagging them to do their homework once you are back at work, call a meeting and explain to the kids you want to start the new school year off in a positive way.  Ask them how they can ensure their homework gets done, so they still have time to have fun and do what they want to do.

The key to all of this is ‘preparing for success’, empowering them and involving them as much as possible in finding solutions to potential and repeated problems.

I have delivered a lot of webinars for organisations such as: DWP, EY, Barclays, HSBC & Marsh 
They have all been variations on the same theme but addressing how to prepare effectively for change, whether that’s parents physically going back to work or the transition to a new phase of the education journey.


 
CHANGE MATTERS

 All parents want the best for their children and want to know how to enable them to fulfil their full potential, get into good habits and cope with inevitable change in their lives. The next phase of change for families on the horizon is parents physically returning to work. This session will cover practical tools and steps you can take to prepare for success, so that your children are well prepared for any change.

  • What is resilience and why is it so important
  • Fostering independence
  • Practical preparation
  • Setting boundaries and expectations
  • Time management

NORMALITY MATTERS

This session will provide an opportunity to reflect on the positive elements.  The experience of Covid-19 has the potential to accelerate significant change in how we work and how our children are educated.  What elements should we hold on to? We will provide some practical tools to best support families on the road back to some sense of normality.

  • Reflections on the benefits to parents and children of the past year
  • What have we learnt & what will we hold on to
  • Being apart from our children again as we physically go back to work
  • Remaining positive & resilient when change happens
  • Practical tools to ‘set up for success’ and ease children back to normality

TRANSITION MATTERS

As a mother of 4 children ranging between the ages of 20 to 11, I have experienced supporting all my own children through the transition to nursery, nursery to primary, primary to secondary and finally on to university.  As a former teacher, I have also seen that process from the school’s perspective. This session will explore how parents can prepare their children for the transition through various educational stages and how to manage change in general. 

  • Practical preparation
  • Think throughs & role play
  • Setting boundaries & expectations
  • Solution time
  • Fostering independence
  • Managing emotions

Back to School: What Really Matters.

There is no question that for the vast majority of children, learning online at home alone, has not been as effective as face-to-face interaction with their peers and teachers in the classroom. I can clearly see that the education of my own four children has been adversely affected over the past year. As a former teacher and teacher trainer, I care a lot about education. It’s why 20 years ago, I chose to call my business ‘Educating Matters’.  However, we need to focus on what really matters when children go back to school and it is not the academics.  It needs to begin with a focus on their social and emotional wellbeing.

The experience of children throughout the UK will have varied enormously over the course of the past year and there will have been huge disparity (even based on what I have discerned anecdotally) in the provision by different schools.  I have spoken to tens of thousands of parents about their challenges of homeschooling during the pandemic and they are certainly not based purely on socio-economic factors. For example, if you are a single parent or both you and your partner work full time, you would have simply not been able to support your child’s education and give them the attention you would have ideally liked to.  We’ve all just been trying to do the very best we can to get by can under exceptional circumstances.

It is so important to appreciate that parents and teachers create the voices in their own heads and that narrative will influence their behvaiour and even sub-consciously pass on to the children.  There is so much talk about this ‘Covid generation’ and the need to ‘catch up’ even potentially over the summer holidays.  Kids have missed out on so much, aside from education.  They have barely had any opportunity for social interaction or to engage in all the non-academic activities they enjoyed in and outside of school.

The government have appointed a new education recovery tsar to oversee this ‘catch up’ but I am not sure what are they supposed to be catching up on? If for example, a child had a terrible illness and ends up missing weeks or months of school, of course they need to catch up on the work their peers have been doing.  However, in this situation ALL children have missed school, so that would mean all children are ‘behind’. Behind what exactly?

When kids return to school next week, if they don’t feel comfortable amongst their peers, if they have terrible anxiety, if they remain in ‘fight, flight, freeze mode’ then very little learning will be taking place.  A child’s attitude, mindset and motivation is the key to success in all areas of life.  This is what parents and teachers need to focus their attention on.  Not constant negative talk about how behind they are academically and how much they have lost.

Especially in the earlier years, play is a child’s ‘work’.

Play allows humans to create, improvise, imagine, learn, problem solve, be open and curious.  It’s that lightness of being, curiosity and wonder when totally engaged with no worries or agenda.

Children should not be put under any added pressure to ‘catch up’. They have a whole life ahead of them after Covid and education is very much a marathon not a sprint.  They have the opportunity to learn throughout their lives, not just in school and certainly not just in one year. 

Children have learnt so many valuable things about life over the course of the last year, that no school in the world can teach in the same way.  They have contributed much more to looking after the family home, worked independently and learnt how to manage their time, procrastination and motivating themselves. It has been an opportunity to practice gratitude for simple things and a heightened sense of what is really important, along with emphasising core values such as caring for others.  They have also built up great banks of resilience, learning to deal with disappointments, setbacks and a huge myriad of different emotions. We should be emphasising this aspect to our children and focusing on how much they have grown, learnt and developed in other areas during the course of this challenging year.

Back to School for SEN Children

Here we go again.  Next week our children our heading back to school.  Some are so excited.  Some are…. not so excited.  However, parents of children with special educational needs know that an additional layer of stress comes with starting back to school…the dreaded transition stress. 

For many of our neuro-divergent children, the need for structure and routine is like the need for air.  The world feels hostile most of the time.  They find comfort in predictability.  Covid-19 has robbed the world of this.  We can understand and cope as adults.  But, for our more vulnerable kiddos who are already coping with so much, one more change may feel like too much.

Don’t worry.  There are a few things we can do to ease them into this change.  Monday morning may still be stressful for everyone, but here are a few ways we can let the steam out of the kettle so it can run as smoothly as possible.

Start Talking About the Process Now

Preparation is the key here.  After letting them know that school is going back, slowly bring this into the conversation whenever you can.  Think out loud about the walk to school and whether there might be a shorter way.  Ask what type of after school snacks they might like to have for when they get home.  Wonder and be curious about the art on the walls.  Now is the time to use your ninja parenting skills to make this feel normal.

Start Shifting Routine

Is bedtime about a million hours later than it should be?  Have they been having school in pyjamas?  That’s ok!  We all did what we needed to so we could get work and school done.  Start moving back to school timings and routine now.  Get dressed every morning…even if it is in new pyjamas.  Follow your morning and evening rituals.  Get their internal body clocks and natural rhythms ready for that 7 am start.

Get Them Involved

I don’t know about you, but with 4 kids in my house, the search for school shoes is real right now!  Make a scavenger hunt to get everything ready.  This is as simple as writing down everything down to the last glue stick and making a check list.  They can have a prize at the end.  This gets them thinking about school and feeling prepared.  Plus, they might find that right shoe when you have a pile of lefts!

Get School Involved

Remember that it is in the school’s best interests for things to move smoothly next week.  Does your child have a favourite teacher or staff member?  See if they are able to write an email or make a phone call letting them know how excited they are to be reunited.  If your child is demand avoidant, keep it to the email as the phone call could be overwhelming. 

Be Prepared for Big Feelings

Even those looking forward to returning are going to have big feelings.  They may come out in different ways like refusing to engage with online learning or even picking fights here and there.  Our children have had to manage so much this year.  They will undoubtedly be worried about how long this will last.  Give them space when they need it and don’t take anything personally.    Use your emotion coaching skills to help them find their resources to thrive.  Monday afternoon needs to be a time to decompress.  Expect that they will need this and be prepared with whatever home comforts they need. 

We know that transitions are a place of stress for many families.  If we plan for the stress, we can reduce the impact.  Move with intention and allow the time and space you need to make this as easy on you and your family as possible.

Parents and carers, you have done an amazing job.  Be proud of yourselves and be proud of your children.  We have developed a level of resilience that will serve us all for a lifetime.  Make sure you take time to reflect.  You deserve it.