Helping your child transition to school

By Kristen Bayliss
Psychologist, The Resilience Centre

At this point in the year the minds of many parents of preschool aged children
turn to the challenges and excitement of starting school for the first time.
We know that there are many transitions coming up for these children- from the
identity transition of ‘becoming a big school kid’ to the context transitions of
negotiating greater independence for tasks such as independent toileting, lunch
box balancing and lost hat finding.

While much emphasis can be placed on trying to accelerate classroom skills
teachers and researchers agree that children being ‘ready to learn’ at school has
a lot more to do with the socio-emotional skills and attitude to learning that a
child brings.

Being able to concentrate at a task for longer than 10 minutes and then switch
tasks successfully is an important foundation for a kindergarten child who has to
remain engaged and responsive to numerous different activities in a day- each
one important for their overall learning development.

At this stage children who are able to generate social solutions and negotiate
compromises amongst their peers are well placed for building stable and varied
friendships. These skills also form the foundation of logical problem solving and
the emergence of emotional intelligence. Families can enhance these skills by
asking their child to reflect on fairness and inviting them to solve common family
problems and disagreements with fairness and empathy. Co-operative board
games provide a fun opportunity for kids to experience working together for a
common goal, while traditional board games such as Ludo or checkers are a
useful education in winning graciously and losing well.

Starting school is also an important time to make sure your child’s emotional
literacy is developing well. School-ready children should be moving beyond the
basic ‘mad, bad, sad’ labels for their feelings and are ready to grapple with the
complexity involved in identifying emotions such as frustrated, lonely, left out,
disappointed, nervous, excited and proud. Being able to describe their
experience and feelings in these specific ways makes it more likely that a teacher
will be able to quickly get to the bottom of ‘tricky’ feelings and help your child
find solutions to problems in the classroom and playground.

Much can be made of the newfound independence and identity transition of
school starters and parents often feel the temptation to expect alot more from
their child’s behavior. Supporting independence at this stage often means
accepting some level of regression in behavior and self-regulation. Children who
are putting their all into adjustment to new routines, expectations and
relationships often have nothing left in the tank when it comes to managing
sibling squabbles, completing regular chores and maintaining an even emotional
keel through the week. Knowing your child’s weak points (tiredness,
possessiveness or wanting to throw off the shackles of conformity) can allow you to prepare to provide after-school experiences that refresh and rejuvenate them-
and you!

Mum’s House, Dad’s House at Exam Time: A survival guide.

By Julieanne Greenfield and Davide Di Pietro

It can be challenging enough for a teenager to negotiate two households after their parents’ separation, let alone juggle this on top of exams! Most students find exam time a stressful period, so your teenager doesn’t need additional stressors.  How can you make things better for your adolescent doing exams?

If it’s a recent separation, by all means write a note to the school or have a word with the Year Advisor, telling them about the family circumstances and the impact on your teenager. If your child is sitting for external exams, special consideration forms will be available, as a safety net if needed.

If the separation is long-standing, an important consideration is that time sharing arrangements are for the benefit of your child and must be suitable for the child’s age and stage of development.  Schedules made when the child is younger may need to be reviewed when the child starts high school or transitions into more advanced grades. This applies especially when there has been shared care. Family Court orders are static, but family needs are bound to change as children get older, their peer group becomes more important to them and extracurricular activities and study demand the young person’s attention. If changing the schedule proves difficult, there are specialised services, such as the Resilience Centre’s Family Clinic to help you.

What are some of the considerations you need to consider for your student at exam time?

  1. Creating a study space: It’s probably a good idea for teenagers to have the stability of living in one household during the exams, certainly during the school week. The choice might come down to which is the primary residence, or if there is fifty-fifty shared care, which is the quieter, less busy household? It may be that the quieter household is not the primary residence, and the teenager may be able to study for the exams better at the spends-time-with parent’s house rather than the lives-with parent’s home.
  1. Make getting to school easy: Proximity to the school is another important consideration. Time spent travelling is time that could be put to better use studying, or exercising to promote the young person’s alertness. While travel time can be used for study to some extent, it’s better to minimise it, so that your student can prepare for exams at home or in an environment with fewer distractions.
  1. You are what you eat: Good nutrition is essential, especially during times of stress. You can support your teenager’s brain function with balanced and nutritious meals. Some foods that contain Vitamin B1, such as brown rice, sunflower seeds, tuna, pork and beef can help with poor concentration and attention. Junk foods will make your teenager sluggish and his or her brain foggy. So another consideration of where you student should be based during exams is which household is better positioned at that time to prepare nourishing meals.
  1. Flexibility: What if your teenager lives primarily with you and spends every second weekend with the other parent?  Would the other parent consider suspending or modifying the weekend stays until the exams are out of the way? This might also apply in the couple of week’s lead-up to the exams, especially if the exams are major ones, like the HSC.  This is a case where a family conference might be called for. Including the adolescent can be a really helpful way of coming up with a solution that works for the whole family. Sometimes, making changes and trying different things can be challenging and confronting for many of parents. It’s usually good to remember that these changes are temporary arrangements based on what is most helpful for your child, and not setting a new precedent for how things will look in the future. Nevertheless, its times like these where you might consider getting help from a third party such as a Family Group Conference Facilitator to help you get through it all.
  1. Pieces and puzzles: The thing about puzzles is that you can’t complete them without all of the pieces, so use all the pieces! The young person is a key piece in a separated family and should most certainly have a say in the arrangements. Parents need to respectfully listen to their child’s request for time, or to modify the schedule, and ensure that the teenager does not witness any conflict between the parents, especially on the teenager’s account.
  1. De-stress, it’s not your test: Exams and assignments can sometimes be more stressful for parents than for young people. Parents can sometimes spend so much of their own energy looking in and worrying that any attempt to help might be taken the wrong way. For parents, keeping calm on the outside usually means working hard on the inside. As a parent of a studying teen, make sure you still find time to do the things that make you ok: a short mindfulness exercise, a workout at the gym, a chat with a friend or a good glass of red. Just one!

With a little bit of planning and tuning-in to your teenager, both student and parents can look forward to coming through with flying colours!

Share the Journey

By the Resilience Centre Team

October is Mental Health Month and the theme is “Share the journey”. This is recognition that it is our connections to others which gets us through the hard times and make the good times even better. “Supportive relationships can motivate us on our journey to better mental health and can improve our ability to cope with life’s challenges” WayAhead Mental Health Assoc NSW

Connecting with others improves resilience. Positive connections with family, friends, at work or school, in the community, with groups which share common interests, or perhaps even with the local shopkeeper who always has a nice word to say, help us to better deal with life’s challenges.

Because “life’ happens!

Sharing our stories with others who face or may have faced similar challenges and experiences, help us to connect, give us hope and build relationships.

We would like to share with you our own observations, tips and strategies for strengthening your social connections and relationships:

• Make the effort. Often we’re all waiting and hoping that someone else will initiate. Be that someone. Start a conversation or invite someone to have coffee.

• When you feel overwhelmed, remember that a small effort is still better than none at all. Sending a short text message or smiling and saying hi takes only a minute and a little bit of energy, but might really make a difference to someone.

• Don’t be fooled by the idea that everyone else is confident and has plenty of friends – scratch the surface and most of us worry about whether we really belong, are truly liked or whether we have enough ‘real’ friends. This is why most people are delighted if you take an interest in befriending them.

• If you’ve ever seen someone take the plunge and speak up about something, or even just speak in public, you’ve probably felt that person is really brave and courageous. If you do it, other people are probably thinking the same thing about you.

• Sometimes we are in situations where we just don’t know what the right thing to say is. It’s better to say we don’t know what to say, than to not say anything at all.

• Come and sit at the table of humanity where we all have one thing in common – imperfection. When we are struggling with something, open up to someone and connect. We all struggle but we’re stronger if we share in it together.

• Small connections count and they build over time. Who knows where they might go? What are your small connections? My dog Zoe greets another neighbourhood dog so I, in turn, greet that dog owner. Day after day, week after week, we share just a minute of that morning space on our walk.

• Stay attuned to signs that others would appreciate social connection and encouragement. Catching the eye of a frustrated shopper and offering a smile, holding the door of a lift open for someone clearly running late and in a flap. These actions have the byproduct of enhancing our sense of affinity and connection with others in our community.

• Keep a gratitude journal to train yourself to notice small kindnesses in the every day.

• Alone-ness is over-rated in tough times…We’re stronger when we are sharing the journey.

We thank our clients for sharing their journey with us.