When I was a child, I got very irritated by adults telling me that schooldays were the happiest of your life. I hated school and found such statements discouraging. Fortunately, life got better and better and I have never been happier than I am right now.
School should be happy and I have noticed that few children really dislike school in the way that was common a generation ago. Yet, some children do not like school and find it hard to manage. Perhaps because my own experience of school was largely negative, I can relate to the child who finds school such a difficult experience.
At this time of year, it is a good idea for parents of children starting a new school experience in September to make sure that they have done enough to make the transition as easy as possible.
Some kids manage transition easily. For those, the new school experience is less daunting. For children who are anxious about change or for those who genuinely dislike school, it is less easy.
Parents of young children will know from the pre-school experience or play dates how their child is going to adjust to the new setting. If your child is anxious or worried about transitions or shows any sort of hesitation, don’t worry but prepare him for the change. Big school should be talked about in positive terms.
Teachers should be described as helpful people who have a special job to keep kids safe and show them new things that are fun and exciting to learn. Remember that most schools put small children into strict enough environments. A uniform makes most look similar. Lining up to go to the yard or toilet is difficult for a busy or distracted child. It needs practice. Learning new words for listening and quiet like ‘ciúnas’ is a big deal for the child who is used to a different freedom.
Most schools, in my experience, are really keen to help and to do what they can to make school a good experience. This is particularly true where a child has a difficulty that can make the school experience hard. If you have a concern about school, talk to the new teacher or school principal.
Tell them your concerns and discuss what you know about your child. Teachers need to have information so that they can do the right thing to help a child settle and adjust. It may be good to have a photo of the new teacher so you can talk about the teachers by name. This can help reduce a child’s worries.
A school visit to see the building and classroom is a great idea.
If a school does not want to help or is not willing to show consideration for a child with needs, you may be sending your child to the wrong school.
Secondary school may not seem like a big jump but it is. Children changing from one class and one teacher to the demand of several teachers or rooms and changes of books in one day may not be ready for that adjustment. Again, it needs practice.
Children who have no experience of organising their own things cannot be expected to organise 10 books and several room changes in a day. If a child has planning difficulties, help him prepare and tell the school that he can be disorganised.
Children with serious planning difficulties are not clumsy but may need some assessment. Occupational Therapists are so good at this (www.aoti.ie). Schools or your doctor can advise about this also.
You know your child better than anyone so in these last weeks of the school year, think about your child and how they are likely to manage the new challenges in September. If you have a question or concern, get some advice now and act on it.
Parents need to remember that it is only natural to have hopes for your children but you do need to be wise and make sure that your hopes for your children are not just your dreams and aspirations.
Sometimes good parents want their children to be an image or realisation of something that parents hope for themselves. It is vital that in allowing your child to grow up independent, resilient and able for life that your own values or ideals inspire rather than overwhelm them. Sometimes children struggle in school because they don’t do well at exams or in all areas of discipline and this can disappoint parents. I have known some parents and some schools to get that balance wrong. It is not common but it does happen.
From the outset, make sure school fits your child’s character well and allows the child to thrive. Prepare them for it wisely. Make a plan now to never carry over school discipline to home unless something really nasty has happened.
Remember, not all children blossom in school. I didn’t and I faired well. Children need encouragement just as much as they need challenge.
Good luck to all ending their school careers and beginning new chapters.
*Dr Colm Humphries is a clinical psychologist based at Philemon in Maynooth, Co. Kildare.