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Back To School
Episode 11624th August 2023 • How Not to Screw Up Your Kids • Dr Maryhan
00:00:00 00:29:04

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I'm talking “Back to School’ and how we can prepare our children and teens to go back to school, start school for the first time, transition to junior school, senior school, boarding school or university.

Whether you are listening to this before you child starts school or is well into the school term, the principles I share are helpful at any point in time when you need to reset patterns of being and behaviour which aren’t optimal for school and getting the best out of school and education. 

Here are the highlights:

(00:49) Creating the right habits

(04:29) Tailor a back to school plan for your child

(09:03) Sleeping patterns go out of the window during holidays

(14:45) Cultivating curiosoty through reading

(19:05) How to deal with back to school anxiety

(21:30) Maintain good social connections during school breaks

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💚 Join our campaign One Million Moments to reduce the number of children struggling with mental health challenges from 17% to 10% by 2025.

Transcripts

00:13

Hello, and welcome to the how not to screw up your kids podcast. So pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat and enjoy the conversation. This is episode 116. And today's episode, back to school is all about preparing our children and teens to go back to school, maybe start school for the first time, transition maybe to Junior School, Senior School, boarding school or university. Now you might be listening to this as it's released as this episode is released. So this will be some weeks before our children actually do go back to school. Or maybe you found me sometime well into your children's school terms,

00:54

it doesn't matter. The principles I'm going to share are helpful at any point in time, when you need to reset patterns of being or patterns of behaviour, which aren't optimal for school and getting the best out of school and education. One of my most favourite sayings is repetition is the mother of all learning. And it's so relevant here. And in other words, what we're saying by repetition is the mother of all learning is that the more we practice, the better we get at something. And that's exactly the same attitude that we need to have when we're starting to look at resetting patterns of behaviour or resetting patterns of being. And before I kind of launch into my five strategies that I'm going to share with you, I want to kind of take you back a bit in terms of background and sort of remind you to kind of keep focused in your mind. And I talk about this a lot too, for those of you who've been listening to my podcast, or have been in my world for quite a while, is that ultimately when we're talking about raising confident and resilient children, when we're talking about our children optimising and getting the best out of school, we need to think kind of broadly around these are, we're custodians of our children for a period of time. And our role as their parents is really to prepare them for a life beyond our home, a life beyond school and life, beyond our sort of protection and our guidance. So we really need to keep in mind, the future adult that we want them to become. And of course, when our children are through the school are actually going through school years, or they're going through the kind of academic system, whether that's a college, whether that's at university, an apprenticeship, whatever that might be, because it we can sometimes get really sucked into the criteria or the benchmarks of success that are happening specifically in that environment. So that might be with younger children, it might be spelling tests, it might be reading levels, it might be math sets, it might be big exams, and all of these things, all classifications in terms of their degree. And of course, we want our children to be as successful as they possibly can. But there are so many aspects to being successful in the traditional academic sense that we can focus on skills that are not specific to academics. So for example, if we want a child to be really successful in their exams, that's actually about independence and planning and problem solving and prioritising. So we can actually kind of cover a lot of that, in areas that have got nothing to do with school, we want them to be able to have those skills, because of course they help them academically, they help them in those ticking those boxes. But actually, those skills go far beyond the being able to prioritise their revision timetable, so that they can actually get all their revision done for a big exam. So it's really just kind of urging you to look broadly, rather than always stick very narrowly to the tracks that we tend to get within an academic setting. So when we look at some of the some of the strategies I'm going to look at in terms of preparing our children to reset patterns of behaviour so that they can be at their absolute best, then it isn't just within an academic framework that we can practice some of these skills. So and I'll kind of put signposts here as we go along. But I just think it's really important that we look at this and to always to also remember that for some children, going back to school is a really exciting time. You know, I was one of those really obnoxious children that was always super excited to go back to school. You know, I loved my school holidays, but I really, really loved going back to school. I love that whole excitement of the new notebooks and pencil case and all of those exciting wonderful things that I really enjoyed my time at school. Now that is not because I was a super uber bright individual who applied them to academically. For those who've listened to the podcast episode about my story, I was not I was pretty middle of the road. But when it actually came to the examination process, I failed quite spectacularly. In it my sort of degree, my masters and my doctorate have come later in life when I was really wanted to engage on that aspect. But I really enjoyed the school environment. For me going back to school was always a positive thing. But some of you listening to this will have children who are dreading going back to school, are fearful of going back to school, or actually find the whole school structure doesn't work for them. And that might be because they are particularly creative. And the school that they're in, is Uber academic. Or it might be that the social aspects around school provide a really torturous, horrible experience for your child. Or it might be that there's friendship, issues that they find particularly difficult. Maybe there's some been some bullying challenges. So we have to be mindful of that is that going back to school presents a whole host of different challenges for different children and these strategies, we'll look specifically at them. So enough of me kind of setting the framework, let's just get cracking. And let's get on with it. So the first thing is, we need to start reeling embed time. And this is really important whenever we're trying to encourage and help our children in terms of getting for optimal, you know, when we're talking about, it's not just just getting them back to school, it's about helping them be in a pattern of behaviour that is optimal for them to get the best out of school get the best out of their education. So quite often, what happens in the holidays is that that time becomes quite loose in terms of timings, we're much more relaxed, we know that our children don't necessarily need to get up. And certainly when we've got teens, we can find that their time just creeps later and later and later to the early hours, maybe even the middle of the early hours. And so they're then waking up much, much later. So we have to start looking at how can we begin to real bedtime. So that what we don't do is, you know, our children began to get go to bed, Uber late 910 11 o'clock, maybe three, four o'clock in the morning, and then suddenly overnight, then having to wake up very, very early. And that will be different for different families that we'll be different for different ages. But what we should be looking at doing sooner rather than later is beginning to sort of inch back the time that our children go to sleep and our teens go to sleep a little bit by little bit. So they don't have a huge culture shock about that. Now part of that is obviously the physical time they go to bed. But part of it is also the process of bedtime, that process of how do we look at sort of decompressing, relaxing, creating an environment of calm. So it's not just reading back, if you've got a child who's going to bed at nine o'clock, for example, maybe you've got a seven or eight year old, that is currently going back going to bed at nine and you're thinking who really should be going to bed more like eight, or maybe even 730. So part of it is about reeling in the actual physical time. But part of it is What's that process of that downtime, that decompression time, are we beginning to create what looks like a good bedtime routine. So that the final number when they go to bed is then being reeled back in. But actually we're beginning to create that little bit of pattern of calm. So part of the things is are we looking at when we when digital devices, then go and stop and get put away so that there's a bit of decompression time, maybe an hour is optimal. So if you've got a child that's going to bed at nine, but at the moment they down tools with their tech a quarter to nine, then one of the things that we need to be looking at is actually how can we get them to down tech half an hour earlier now and then 45 minutes earlier so that when we look at the hour, it doesn't become this huge shock that it looks like we're kind of severing their arm immediately. So start looking at reading in the actual bedtime. But that process of what that bedtime starts looking like and I would suggest you start looking I much I think it's much better for everybody. If we start reeling it in little by little rather than having this big, cut off and change and start looking at that that will be my number one thing that we should be looking at in terms of preparing them optimally for returning. The second one is beginning to create some structure. Now by this I'm talking about structure around goal setting and around reintroducing some of the patterns of the educational component that our children are going to be faced with. I think it's really important that children in this in the holidays are able to just relax and decompress. I'm not a big fan of children doing huge amounts of academic holiday stuff. I am a big fan of children reading regularly Because I think reading is something that we want to encourage our children to do for pleasure. So that they don't just see reading is something that I do for school to tick a box. There you go, I've done my my reading. And certainly when we're looking at older children that don't have a mandatory requirement to read, and then read back to their teachers, but they, they won't need to read an access books for pleasure. But they will also need to read and access books as part of an examination process of being able to, you know, download information from that article or from that book and understand particular concepts. Maybe there might be historical concepts, geographical concepts, or things from an English for poetry and other things. So I do think trying to create some structure. And we did have this particular resource in terms of how to manage the school holidays, but we will also make it available again, as part of this podcast resource. One of the things I really love, which is gears, so these are five basic principles and activities, and regular practices that are really useful for our children to do during the holidays. And if you haven't introduced this, it will be a really good time to introduce this is that gear stands for five simple principles, G is an element, a daily practice of gratitude is some regular exercise. A is some aspiring goal setting, practice to be looking at, and I'll talk a little bit more about that in just a moment. Are is reading to having a regular daily practice of reading, whatever that might be. An S is an act of service, being able to do something for someone else. So create some structure, whether you use gears, or whether you just have a list of certain things that you're you talk to your children about doing regularly, an A the aspiring one, the aspirational one will link very much through to, to preparing them for school, but whatever your child is going back to in terms of going back to school, or your teen, is there'll be certain aspects of that next step up, whether it's a next school year up, or whether they're transitioning from a school will raise with it, some specific challenges that might be maybe they're moving into examination years, maybe they're moving from

12:25

sort of a primary or junior school setting into a senior school setting, maybe then looking at going into university. So it's actually looking at what might that next transition present in terms of challenges that they need to step up to? Are, they suddenly going to be expected to move around the school a little bit more, so there's an element of independence, maybe they're going to be catching a bus, and that aspect of it, maybe they're going to start living independently, whether that's because you've got a child going into boarding school, or whether they're going off to university? So what we're actually looking in terms of goal setting is beginning to work out, what's that next step for my child? What are the things that they might need to do? Maybe it's if they're transitioning to a new school, maybe the challenge is going to be around making new friends. If it's a challenge of maybe being away from home, it's actually that independence. So when we start creating some of the structure, what we're also looking at doing is recognising what might be the challenges presented to them by this next step up? And how can we begin to put some things in place while they're on holiday, that might be able to feed through to helping them with those competencies. So for example, if we're going to be looking at Independence, now, we don't necessarily need to immediately practice independence, in terms of getting the school bus, although you can start looking at it in terms of catching local buses, or trains or whatever that might be. But it might be thinking, Okay, well, if my child is going to need to exercise more independence as they're moving up, what are some of the things that we can put in place in the holidays now over the next few weeks? Or if you're catching this, at any time during the middle of term? How can I create some opportunities for my child to be more independent? Can they maybe make their own lunches? Can I task them with getting from A to B independently? You know, can I task them with maybe being more independent around the house, maybe putting on laundry or making beds or organising things? This is where we we as parents need to begin to become creative when we're looking at aspects of independence, or making friends or all of these things that the next steps for our children kind of create is how can I actually as a parent, in the four walls, that era that is home or any other aspect, create some of these skills and opportunities to practice these skills? Remember, repetition is mother of all is the mother of all learning. How can I create ate that, without needing them to necessarily needing to wait into them in that school environment in order for them to practice, let's think beyond that, can they follow a recipe, can they organise a day out for the family, all of those things is, you know, that we can look at but we'll make gears if you'd like to practice and use the gears, principles of these five practices that children do daily, then, of course, we'll make that resource available to you, as part of the as part of the podcast resource. So what we're really looking at doing is creating some structure and that structure will vary, depending on the next level, the next stage that our children are going to be entering into. And just being creative and thinking about how can I begin to help my child practice some of these skills in that home environment. So the first thing is about reading bedtime and the bedtime routine. The second is about creating some structure. The third is work through any anxieties about a return to school and what that necessarily presents. And don't. You know, I've talked before about this notion that, you know, I loved going back to school, and some children don't in lots of ways, when we know that we've got a child who's super anxious about returning back to school, we often sort of their thinking, What do you know, I'm just going to enjoy the summer, I don't want them to be thinking about those anxieties. You know, why, Mary Hannah, you making me kind of address this now? Why can't I just let my child be in peace, when I get that, but you and I know that your that isn't going to go away? If your child is anxious about going back to school, because they've already got that anxiety? Why leave it to the last minute, your child is aware that that anxiety is going to be building up? So why not equip them? Why not have those conversations? Why not problem solve what you might need to do now to help them practice some of those aspects, rather than leaving it to the last minute, and that's my genuine view. So if you've got a child, who may be starting school for the first time, and you know that they've got separation anxiety, you can't leave them with your mother, you can't leave them with a friend, they get upset when you take them to nursery or to preschool already. Why would you leave that until the first day to start dealing with? If you've got a child who's struggling, and has anxieties around friendships that you know, were there? Why would you leave that until the first day back at school? If you've got a child who struggles with the workloads associated with school, the expectations, the academic expectations, or just they just have a real challenge around going to school and going back to school? I'm a real believer of Why would you leave that to the last minute, why would you not start working around that and creating some sort of, you know, sort of these, I've talked before about this idea about this ladder, that, you know, we would move up towards a, you know, let's do some of these basic levels of anxiety that our children experience and help them experience success around those. So that when we get to the first day of school, of course, that those anxieties are not just going to suddenly disappear, because you've listened to this podcast episode. And you've started putting some things in place. But they won't be as intense as if you leave them and hope that they're going to disappear. And then it kind of hits you with full force, not only for you or for your child. So it's let's be honest about what we think those anxieties are going to be. Or we know already because we've got a child returning back to school where we know that there are anxieties, and what can we start putting in place, what small challenges, small experiences our children can work through, that will give them a little bit of success that will start building up that confidence that will help them so if we've got a child who we know has separation anxiety, that could be a child that starting school for the first time, or it could be a child that has separation anxiety, and maybe they're kind of been in school for many years, they're kind of like 12, or 13, and still finding it difficult. Or there's issues around friendships workload, whatever that might be is, can we start working through that? Can we start having conversations with our children about I know that you find it difficult to return back to school, and you're really enjoying the school holidays, but we've got three weeks, two weeks, one day, and I know that these things are going to be difficult, and maybe you're already back at school. And I know that with each return back to school after a weekend is really difficult. Let's talk through, let's problem solve. Let's have a conversation around how we could make that a little bit easier. What strategies could we do that helped manage that physiological experience of anxiety and worry, that chatter that you have around feeling that you haven't got any friends or feeling that the workload is too much or that there's these expectations that you don't believe that you're capable of that you can't? live up to all that you worry about being away from home. Let's look at these, let's look at the physiological, what strategies can we put in place that help manage that pit of the stomach feeling that increase heart rate that you have? Or that internal chatter that

20:16

says that you can't quite do this, that it's too much, whatever that is, let's start working through that. Let's start making a plan that says we might not be there on day one, day two, day 20, day 30, day 75 day 120. But the we're beginning to feel like we've got a plan, and that we're making steps and progress so that it feels less intense each and every time that we go through. So we're reeling up at time, we're create beginning to create a bit of structure, because holidays are all about flow and impromptu decisions and no structure at all, which is what makes them so wonderful and relaxing. We're beginning to have conversations around what those anxieties are going to be about going back. And we're beginning to create a bit of a plan around how we can work through them. The fourth one is I've written them written it down as playdates, and obviously that sounds like it's quite infantile, and for the younger child, but actually, what are we putting in place that's reconnecting our children to school. So that might be playdates for younger children in terms of reconnecting them with friendships. And those, what it's like to have those friendships, but with older teens, how we reconnecting them to in person friendships, teens will often be connected with their friends during the holidays in some way online. But what have we done to try and encourage that reconnection in person? Because that's the whole aspect of being back at school, it's that connection. And if you've got a child who struggles with friendships, how can we kind of try and create some opportunities for them to reconnect with people and to practice some of those skills? And it may be logistically it's too difficult, because you've got where you live is more difficult in terms of getting people together? So how can we reconnect them to friends, just generally in person, and with our children that might be younger, who might be starting school, or children that are transitioning? So they're moving from a junior school into a secondary school where they don't know anyone? How can we recreate, and we introduce scenarios where they get to practice some of those skills, around friendships and those skills around being around people negotiating and learning to kind of create those new friendships. So how can we, for young children, it might be playdates, but for older teens, it's much more about connecting them to in person, rather than specifically on line. Because that can have a huge impact on how confident they feel around going back to that's a really important aspect as well. So real embed times, create some structure, whether you use gears or whether you look at problem solving, and something that they're aspiring to whatever that next level of challenge may be working through and discussing any anxieties that you know, are definitely there or you suspect may be presented by the next level that our children are going to experience in terms of schooling, college or university. Let's start looking at those in person connections, whether those are playdates for younger children, or whether that in person can reconnections for our teens. And if our teens are transitioning to a new school, or maybe a new university, are there people that they can connect to that are going to be as part of that year group or not. And if not, just reconnecting them to scenarios, that where they kind of get to practice those skills about making friends with people that they don't necessarily know. So that might be your wider friendship group as adults and reconnecting to your, your friends, children that they may not have met before. Or it might be reconnecting through specific society groups or clubs and things like that. And then the fifth one is role play, or practice any significant changes. So this might be practising getting on a bus independently, if that's going to be one of the new things that they're going to do. Or having conversations around and practising, maybe you're going back to work for the first time your child has started school and you're going back to work, or you've got a new job, or that the aspect of your role is going to change significantly. So you might not be there at pickup or you might not be there at the end of the day, or you might have a job. That means that you're going to be away from home for chunks of the time, or that your child is going to be having that separation for you from the first time. It's really thinking about what are the significant changes going to be when my child is necessarily going to go back to school, and how can I begin to roleplay or practice some of those things so that they begin to see what that might look like. So it doesn't become this big thing when they return back to school after any specific time, any period of holiday that they've began to kind of experience that innate. So if you're changing a job, for example, or you're going to be away, why don't you practice, some of that was during the school holidays, so that it's not just this big jump of not only am I going back having had this huge period of relaxation, and then transitioning to a new year, or I'm starting school for the first time, and I'm having to deal for the first time with my parents, who would typically pick me up from school no longer doing that, or no longer being around who I might not see or who was travelling, whatever that might be, is practising that role play can be used at any point, this isn't role playing isn't just for young, young children. This is for all, you know, all ages of children, it's a great way to practice. What is it going to be like what might happen, if I've got a child who has been separated, meet with me for the first time, let's practice what it's going to be like to be going into school and say goodbye, and swap roles. You know, don't always play the adult, play the child, get your child to roleplay being the adult, because it reveals a huge amount about their fears and anxieties. But also, it lets you hear and see them paraphrasing or using a lot of the language that you've been using. And it consolidates their ability to cope. So it may well be, you might be saying, well, I'll be back to pick you up in five hours. And then when you roleplay, you hear your child saying that, and that helps them consolidate. So it's really important to roleplay. And also to practice any of these significant changes as much as you possibly can. Sometimes it isn't possible. And if there is a school bus, your child can't practice getting that school bus, but they can practice getting on a bus. And that kind of an all the independence that comes with that. So it's practising role playing in whichever aspects that you can do that that's a really useful thing to do. So my five strategies are really bedtime and the bedtime routine, create some structure where there has not been any structure and looking at what that might need to look like for your child. Work through any anxieties and problem, solve in advance. Don't push it aside. Don't try and avoid dealing with it. But kind of be proactive, have those conversations with your children problem solve how you might start putting those things in place and what might need to happen. play dates or in person connection for older teens begin to kind of take them away from that not away from that, move that away from the online aspect, becoming the dominant thing and trying to create more of that in person. And the fifth one is about roleplay. And practice any of those significant changes that are going to happen around that restart. Now my guest this week is going to be my usual these top five strategies in a checklist with space to reflect underneath, but we will also share the gear strategy with you. And the idea is that you can use these as a reminder but you can also use it practically. So implementing gears now. So head over to my free resource library www.drmaryhan.com/library where you'll find the link to download not only this week's resource, but all of the resources across all my other podcasts. All you need to do is pop in your email address and you'll get instant access as ever if you have enjoyed this episode, I would love it if you could follow and review this podcast so that others can find this and we can spread the love. So until next time,

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