How can you help your child to be happy at school?

It’s a couple of weeks into the new school year now.  Most children will have settled back into class with a new teacher and will look forward to the school day, but it is the time of year when some parents start to notice that change is affecting their child’s behaviour negatively,  and it’s no bad thing to be aware of what help is out there for mums and dads.

Little ones starting school wet the bed for the first time in ages, they don’t want to go because ‘my tummy hurts’ or as one five year old said to me after her first day ‘I’ve been to school, it was nice, but I won’t go again’.  In that hour when they come home from school, or when you first see them after school, it really helps to just sit down with them if you can, while they have a drink and a biscuit, giving them time to talk and unwind; small ones, in particular, may sit and draw while they talk to you; it  allows them to make sense of their day to you while it’s fresh in their minds.

After tea  they are often so tired that they are practically asleep standing up, and older children get very tired too, but when it comes to bedtime they are wound up and can’t settle.  Clients are initially very sceptical when I suggest the mini-meditations for children on the Calm for Kids website, but they really do work, and after a couple of evenings, parents have told me that they find even noisy, ‘fighty’ boys reminding them about the CD, because they help them feel relaxed as they lie in bed.  The CD costs about the same as a pizza, but its benefits last a lot longer.

There’s a lot of pressure on teenagers at school, but there’s also evidence that teenagers, particularly teenage boys, have a different body clock from the rest of us; they find it hard to go to sleep, and i-pads, x-boxes and televisions in bedrooms really don’t help.  It won’t be popular; they will tell you that, ‘nobody else’s parents do it!’, but it does make sense to ban all technology from bedrooms at night.  Teenagers also find it hard to get out of bed in the morning;  the research tells us they need huge amounts of sleep, but winning the battle of the i-pad on school nights, allows you to be more lenient at weekends, and improves your chances of seeing  them safely out of the house in the morning as you go to work.  If you sit down and negotiate a ‘win-win’ with them, and their wishes and feelings are also being taken into account, they will usually see the benefits of a compromise.

Sometimes a child doesn’t settle down at school, and this can happen when you least expect it; it may be after happy years in nursery, in the first year of junior school,  at age eleven, and even post-16.   Children and teenagers often don’t want to say, or don’t know what’s wrong, and they show it by being defiant, reluctant to do things, rude, or fighting with their siblings. Occasionally school gets in contact to say a child is not settling, or is being difficult.  What do you do?

The first point of contact is the class teacher.  You may well find that your child is being dreadful at home, but is fine at school.  That usually means there’s no problem.  Most children express their tiredness and feelings of pressure at home; it’s the natural place to release their emotions, and so long as you have basic ground rules about what’s acceptable, and keep talking and asking if they are okay, there’s unlikely to be much wrong.  There’s a great book to help you understand how your child’s brain works, and to improve how you talk to each other,  and it’s useful with all ages, from two year olds to teenagers.  I know some adults who have understood themselves a lot better after reading it too.  It’s The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne.  It’s a practical, up-to-date, hands-on guide to getting on with your child and helping them grow.  I recommend it frequently to parents, and they quote it back to me and tell me how it’s improved their relationship with their children and with each other.

If you are seriously worried about your child’s progress, and feel you need more advice or support, the teacher in charge of special needs, or SENCO,  is your next port of call.  There’s no shame in your child needing extra support; sometimes it’s really able children, who find it hardest to settle to routine tasks in a new class.  The phrase I always keep in my head is, “The child’s behaviour is giving us a message; it’s our job to work out what that message is”  Children often can’t put into words what’s wrong; some children withdraw when they don’t feel good, others ‘act out’.  It’s up to us, as adults, to recognise that if a child, or teenager’s behaviour changes, there’s something they need to talk about.

If you are seriously concerned about your child’s behaviour or progress, you can ask school for an assessment with an Educational Psychologist.  There’s often a long waiting list, but they really do know their stuff, and will usually get to the bottom of what’s wrong.  Don’t forget how useful your GP can be; they are experienced with children and frequently a good source of advice too.  I’ve added some resources and contacts that many parents have found useful to my links page.

And what about you, the parents?   Suddenly, after eighteen years of giving them your time and your love, maybe forgetting to nurture your own relationship, because teenagers need so much attention, they are gone; off to university, communicating mostly when their bank card doesn’t work or they need to know how to make  ‘spag bol’……..That means you’ve done a really good job, but it’s not always the dominant feeling as you are left behind.  It may feel brilliant to have an empty house, to not be treated like a free taxi-driver anymore,  to become a couple again, but often it doesn’t.  I’ll talk about it another time.