Six ways to help your child settle back into school

Living Well | Words: Sue Hewitt | Posted on 22 January 2021

A new school year can be stressful at the best of times, but there are ways to make things easier.

After the uncertainty of 2020 some children will find settling into school particularly challenging, according to leading national youth mental-health organisation Orygen. 

Orygen, which has partnered with RACV to help young people with mental ill-health meet their education and employment goals, says it’s normal for children to feel some anxiety about the start of the school year, especially after the upheavals of 2020. But the good news is there are ways you can help your child ease back into the new school routine. 

Orygen clinical psychologist Dr Rebecca Davenport-Thomas and psychologist Sophie Ratcliff offer these expert tips. 

High school student wearing uniform standing in hallway holding textbooks.

Six ways to help your child settle into the new school year

Talk it through

If your child is anxious or worried, it’s important to validate their feelings. Ask how you could support them or suggest things you could do to help. This will differ depending on their age, developmental stage and communication style. Some young people can find it easier to talk about things when engaged in an activity, like going for a drive in the car, walking the dog or cooking dinner. Others who are more prone to worry may need help containing these worries. You can do this by getting them to write down their worries and then discussing these at regular check-ins. 

Expert tip: For quieter or younger children, try modelling communication by talking about your own day to help them open up.  

Ensure rest

The first weeks of school can be emotionally and physically draining for school kids of all ages. After a long summer break, kids now have to wake up early and spend the day taking in lots of new information. 

Simply managing the demands of the school day, like learning the layout of the school and responding to set activities, can be exhausting, especially for young children. Parents and carers can help children by planning relaxing evenings in these early weeks of the term, setting regular bedtime routines and ensuring older children put away their phones and electronic devices well before bedtime. 

Expert tip: Try to reduce extracurricular activities in the first few weeks to give everyone downtime.   

Help them feel part of the school community 

It’s important that young children and teenagers feel connected to their school community and classmates. You can help younger children do this by setting up or encouraging them to join playdates with classmates and letting older kids catch up with friends after school.  

Expert tip: After a turbulent year learning from home, some friendship groups are likely to have changed, so talk to your child about this to help them be adaptable and open to change. 

Practise relaxation

If your child is worried about settling in, you can help them practise skills to calm their emotions, such as simple breathing exercises or meditation. Offer to do these exercises together, perhaps on the way to school in the morning or at home in the evening. 

Expert tip: You can download different mindfulness apps on your phone such as Smiling Mind to practise with ease. 

Look after the family  

The start of a school year can be stressful for parents and families as a whole, especially if your child is starting school for the first time. When children are returning to school, parents are often also returning to work or changing their own schedules, so it’s important to give everyone time to settle into new routines. Remember to be kind and compassionate to yourself. It’s important to acknowledge your own feelings and make some time for yourself. 

Expert tip: Think about how you prepare for the day and consider making changes so that things run as smoothly as possible. 

Keep watch

Keep an eye on your child for any changes in mood or behaviour which may be a clue that they’re struggling and need extra support. Warning signs might include being withdrawn, lacking interest in activities previously enjoyed, complaining of physical health issues, difficulties with friendships and other relationships, repeated absences from school and a drop in academic performance. 

Expert tip: If you are concerned about your child, you could: 

  • Talk with them to get a better understanding about what might be affecting their mood and behaviour.  
  • Speak to a member of the school about options for additional support, such as a school-based mental-health practitioner or a trusted teacher. 
  • Consider taking your child to a doctor for a mental-health care plan, including sessions with a mental-health professional covered by Medicare. 
  • Reach out to specialist youth mental-health services, such as Orygen, which have many years of experience in providing practical advice to help young people thrive.

RACV is focused on improving the lives of Victorians and is pleased to support Orgyen through a three-year partnership to further their important work, particularly supporting young people in regional areas, who often lack adequate support for their mental wellbeing. The RACV partnership will help Orgyen extend its Individual Placement and Support programs, meaning young people in regional Victoria will be better equipped to manage their mental wellbeing, and to continue their studies or find meaningful employment.

If you or anyone you know needs help contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.