SCHOOL reopens next week for most children in Malaysia. Are you terrified of the screaming and crying in the first week as your child readjusts to the routine? Take heart. You are not alone. This is a common scenario faced by parents.
Elaine Yong, lecturer and developmental psychologist at Sunway University, likes to prepare the kids psychologically and emotionally one week before the first day of school.
She says that parents can set the stage by doing the following:
Sit down with your child to draw up a weekly timetable for their play, chores, homework and bedtime. Post the timetable on the fridge for all caregivers and your child to see.
b) Work habits
Prepare a workstation for your child. Dedicate at least 15 minutes every day for homework. Keep the television off and all smart devices away when your child is working. Be ready to offer assistance when needed (don’t let your child get too frustrated). Establish this work habit before school starts and stick to the routine.
Orientate your child about school life. If your child is just entering Year 1, it is essential to talk about how to adjust to the upcoming school year. Parents can talk about:
- Bigger class sizes;
- Teachers’ teaching styles;
- Making and keeping new friends;
- Buying food at the cafeteria;
- Following the school rules; and
- Safety at school.
For older students (Year 2 and above), parents can review their child’s past year with them. Talk about:
- Positive school experiences;
- Positive learning strategies used;
- Share school plan for the year (terms and holidays); and
- Remind them about safety at school.
Regardless of their academic performance, Yong believes that parents need to remind the child that they “made it” and should look forward to another “fantastic” year.
You should also already be practising waking early and sleeping early at least one week before school begins. According to Yong, “Parents need to gradually adjust the biological clock of their child. This is especially important for children in the morning school session, where typically school begins before or at 7.45am. Parents also need to decide if their child would need a nap in the middle of the day. It is recommended for children aged 5-12 years to have approximately 10-11 hours of sleep a day.”
She encourages parents to celebrate the milestones during the year – the first day, first week, first month, first test, and first term.
“Make time to have small mini celebrations with your child upon completing these timelines. Praise or reward them with pleasurable outings and activities. Do you recall the days when you used to take monthly photos of your child during the first year? In that similar light, parents can also establish a positive outlook of school by sharing the journey with them. Hence, these milestones are a fantastic booster for you and your child,” adds Yong.
Parents may need to provide additional emotional support for those going to a new school or just starting school as it can be an intimidating experience.
If this is the case, this is what parents can do for small children:
- Accompany the child to school for the first two days.
- Provide your emergency contact number.
- Agree on a pick-up area after school ends.
- Identify the closest washrooms for your child.
- Encourage your child to make a new friend (they may need some assistance identifying their classmates initially).
For those whose children are facing an important exam in 2017, Yong suggests the following:
- Share parental expectations with your child (Be realistic with your expectations).
- Identify learning challenges early and provide assistance.
- Plan revision schedules counting down to trial exams and final exam.
- Do not compare your child’s academic performance with another (It will damage the confidence level of your child).
- Plan for a special reward for the child (to reward the effort put in throughout the exam regardless of the outcome).
“From my observations, most kids are excited rather than fearful about school. Instead, parents are the anxious ones, thus it will be most helpful if parents can manage their own emotions and anxieties without showing them to their child. Over-parenting can cause their child to behave negatively under the pressure. Hence, parents, please pull up your ‘mental handbrakes’ and the children will sort themselves out,” suggests Yong.
Finally, it is a good idea to set targets for your child to ensure the appropriate channelling of effort and energy. She recommends that parents set academic and non-academic expectations.
“For example, encourage your child to be in the top 20% in class and sign up for one after school extra-curricular activity. Targets should be realistic and should be reviewed periodically. The most important thing to emphasise is having fun in school. This mindset will help ensure the child indoctrinates a lifelong willpower to learn rather than learning to ace the exams,” she says.