Easing Children into a New School Year
By Huang Shasha
Counselor and Co-director of the Centre for Language, Learning and Enrichment
It has been a while since the start of the school year. Most children gradually get acclimatized – they enter a new grade, get familiar with their new teachers, and study and play with new classmates.
Sometimes, children ease into their academic year with no problem, and that isbe great. However, there are times when things are not always smooth and easy. I knew a girl who was absolutely fine in the first week of school, but she resisted entering the classroom in the second week. Her mother had a hard time getting her daughter to school everyday. The girl would cry uncontrollably, holding on to her mother’s legs. And finally when in class, she would find excuses to leave – if it was a bellyache at one time, it was a dizzy spell another. Was she lying? Not necessarily, because sometimes anxiety does cause physical uneasiness, especially in children, which experts term ‘psychosomatic disorder.’
This may seem like an extreme example, but it goes to show that the start of school year is excitement and curiosity for all. There are many who also feel anxiety and fear. Here I analyze the reasons of such anxiety, and suggest ways, from my experience, to help children adjust to the pressures of a new school year.
Let us start with separation anxiety. I am sure there are parents who must be thinking, “No way! My child is a fourth grader, how can he or she be anxious? Doesn’t this only happen to toddlers who attend kindergarten?” This is a myth. In fact, separation anxiety is not restricted to a certain age group. When a child has just spent a wonderful summer vacation with the family 24/7, it is indeed painful for the kid to leave parents and return to school. The best way to deal with it is not to get “too involved and attached.” This means that parents need to find ways to say goodbye calmly, or to ask your child’s good friend to walk into the school gate with him/her, or to even say bid farewell for the day earlier. For instance, if a child is more attached to his/her mother, the father should take the child to school or to the school bus stop. Remember not to weep or whine in front of your children; neither should you rush your child into the school gate impatiently.
A second concern is social anxiety – it takes some time for children to adjust to new teachers and classmates, while leaving behind their old friends. Some children who are shy or less out-going need encouragement during this stage. I would encourage parents to urge your children to make new friends and to find the “lovable” part of their teachers. It would also be great to invite classmates to spend more time with your children in some activity – playing soccer, reading together in the library, hanging out during weekends, or signing up for the same KAP.
A thirdly pressure point for students could be academic. It is unavoidable that children are faced with higher academic demands in a new school year – there might be more homework, more subjects, or higher expectations from the teachers. High and reasonable expectations help a child grow, but some may seem unreasonable. I always remind parents that children sometimes refuse to study because they fear that they might fail – in their eyes, a child who “does not love to study” is much better than a “stupid” child. Therefore, if you have found that your child seems to express an unwillingness to study, or complain about how difficult the work is, please take it as an SOS. I encourage parents to talk with your children about help they may need. Let them know that you are always there to support them. You can also ask the teacher about how to support your child academically.
Let me get back to the girl I started this article with. We found the root of her challenge: she spent the whole summer vacation playing, without speaking any English. In her first week of school, she found that she did not understand anything. Her fear of English classes made her want to escape from school. So, we did three things to support her: 1. Her father, instead of her mother, brought her to school every day because he is able to bid farewell to her more calmly 2. We also found her a good friend who sits next to her in class, and translates for her when necessary 3. The parents also hired an English tutor to support her. Two weeks later, I stopped receiving requests for help from her teachers or parents. Every time I see her at school, she always greets me happily: “Hi, Ms. Shasha!” How nice it is to see a child enjoying school and learning!
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