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Back to school blues?

Ding ding! Uniforms are ironed, pencils are sharpened, but going back to school can be stressful. Here, teachers offer their top tips for kids (and parents).

boy wearing specs in front of blackboard with chalk sums

While frazzled parents are putting the prosecco on ice and skipping towards this school gate with their brood in freshly ironed shirts and armed with a healthy snack (let’s be honest, you won’t be keep that A* behaviour up for long), for many the first day can be a nightmare.

Yes there’s all the excitement of a newness. For some, a new school, new teachers, new friends, new stuff to learn, but for a lot of kids going back to school is nerve-wracking at best and an explosion of anxiety, fear or depression, at worst. In fact, according to new research by children’s charity the Diana Award, almost half of children entering the classroom this week will fear being bullied. It’s a worrying statistic for parents waving goodbye at the school gate.

How do you cope? Well, we called in the academic A Team (aka some of Berkshire’s finest teachers) to offer their top tips on making the transition as smooth as possible for students of every age. Here’s what they had to say…

Scrabble letter spelling back to school

Catch some zzzz

We’re all a bit slack when it comes to summer holiday bedtimes. Maybe it’s the light, sunny evening or the copious amounts of rosé you’re consuming but time flies when you’re having fun. According to Sam Greenwood, Head of KS4 at Pangbourne College, if you don’t start to prioritise your children’s sleep, it’ll come back and bite you on the bum. “The best thing students can do in the last week of the summer holidays is to try and gradually get their sleep pattern adjusted,” explains Mrs Greenwood. “This is especially true for teenagers – they need to start setting alarms a bit earlier each day, so that by the first day of school they are ready to go in the early morning.”

Keep calm and carry on

If your children are worried, don’t join in. Relax, stay calm and reassure. Or fake it till you make it. Julia Harrington, Head teacher at Queen Anne’s School in Caversham agrees, “As far as parents are concerned, although you’ll be feeling nervous too, try not to pass this on to your child because this will be a signal that you don’t trust the circumstances your child is about to experience, or you don’t think that your child will be able to manage it.  If you don’t believe it, then surely as their parent you must be right? But don’t pretend that these fears don’t or shouldn’t exist. And don’t be afraid to talk about how it is natural to feel anxious about entering new situations and share an experience with them of your own.”

children in uniform with backpacks

Be supportive

Often at the beginning of term there is a lot of information to remember. Names, timetables, where the loos are. So offer lots of reassurance and a little help organising their stuff first few weeks. Andrew Colpus, Headmaster at St Joseph’s College Reading, says, “Your child may well be nervous about starting the new term. They may have new members of staff or a new classroom. There may be new expectations/rules/layouts to get used to. Be positive about school and the start of the term when speaking to your child. Some pupils are excited about going back to school and others dread it. Know your child and be aware that your child’s view may be different to how you felt when you were a child.”

Positive vibes

“Feelings of anxiety are normal in children (and parents),” explains Joanna Leach, Head Teacher at Highfield Prep in Maidenhead. “The key is to listen to and deal with those anxieties and worries straight away in a positive way. Children will be worried about a variety of things from: “Will any of my friends be in my class?”, “Who will I go to lunch with?” to “What if the lessons are too hard?” and “Where will Mum & Dad be when I’m in school?”. It’s important to let your child share their fears, and then you can talk these through in a relaxed fashion and help your child to come up with solutions to their issues.”


Boarding wobbles

Not all children are heading off to boarding school, but some are, and that can be incredibly daunting. Julia Harrington says, “In a boarding community, it is particularly important to ensure that pupils know that they will be safe, well fed, cared for, comfortable and – happy! Pupils and families need to know where they are going to be based, who will be looking after them, how they can contact each other and what to do if they do feel worried. We are fortunate nowadays in that technology allows links to be set up immediately. But it is also important for parents not to overreact if they do get that upset call – the chances are a member of staff will have noticed and he or she is smiling again! Meanwhile you are not! So get in touch, would always be our advice – we are here for parents too.”

Goal diggers

Everyone loves to have a hit record. If your child is overwhelmed by the work ahead of them, set achieveable goals. Use last year’s end of year report to guide you and set the goals together. Andrew Colpus also recommends encouraging them to volunteer for positions of responsibility and get involved in lunchtime and after-school activities. Give anything they fancy a go, even if it is something they have never done before.

Parent trap

Having spent the last few days preparing uniform, ironing, labelling, packing bags and getting fleeced for stationary, your job does not end there. On top of setting an early alarm to get everyone out of the door on time, it’s probably a good idea to help them organise their bags for the first few weeks while they adjust to the routine.

If you have littlies, don’t linger and fuss over them if they start to wobble. Just reassure them they will  have a great day and that you’ll see them later. Easier said than done, when they’re clinging to your leg like a limpet. But try.

When things go wrong, and they will at some point, encourage your child to speak to a teacher.

It seems basic, but know the route to school, make a note of all the important dates in your calendar and have the school’s contact info.

When your kids get home, ask them about their day. My kids are usually like hungry bears when they burst through the door, so food comes first, and chat comes shortly after. Perhaps plan something nice for the weekend at the end of the first week of term, everyone has something to look forward to and takes some of the pressure out of the week ahead.

Finally, my advice, make sure you have wine, or gin. In fact anything alcoholic. You’ll need and deserve a large glass of your favourite tipple. We can’t be Mary Poppins all of the time. Good luck, keep calm, we can do this.

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