Everybody needs to relax but we think that, for children, the need is even greater than for adults. Their bodies and brains are changing so fast, and in so many different ways. Some of the happiest memories of our lives are from our own school holidays as children – lounging around, for hours on end, with absolutely nothing to do.
Different children react to going back to school in very different ways. Some like the increased structure and regularity that school brings with it – they find order, and predictability, relaxing. But others, like we did, love the freedom and the lack of structure of the holidays.
But others might dread school for different reasons. For an extrovert child, going back to school, where there are always hundreds of people around, can be energising. But many children are, quite naturally, more introverted – and they find it tiring to meet so many new people.
Research has shown that after the long summer break, conversations over lunchtime play an important role in helping re-establish and re-enforce friendships at school as this is where kids get time to chat amongst themselves about school, careers and family. Research by Hartley’s Jelly Pots revealed that 15% of kids said they like to talk about their future careers over lunch with friends, and being a YouTuber is the top choice. This is a vast difference to the careers parents would have chosen at school.
For all children, it’s the transition – that hard edge, the fact that one day you’re on holidays, and the next you’re not – that can be hard to manage both for children, and their parents. So here are some tips to help you cope:
Children find transitions hard
Children tend, much more than adults, to live life very much in the moment. As an adult we naturally think and plan for the future – but children often don’t, meaning that the end of the holidays can come like a bolt from the blue. Make sure that you talk to them in advance about how long the holidays are going to last, and when they will have to go back to school. This will help them to plan for it in their head – and then, when the transition does come, it’s easier to manage.
Children hate the feeling of being out of control
For everybody – adults, as well as children – research suggests that it’s feeling out of control that is particularly hard to manage. This is particularly tough for children, who spend so much of their time being dragged, through no choice of their own, from one place to the next.
Children can’t, of course, choose when to go back to school – but the more that you can let them feel in control of some of the small details around it, the better. This is why things like letting them choose their pencil case, and any details about their physical appearance, can be so important – because it lets them feel in control of something, at least.
Children don’t recognise emotions such as anxiety in themselves nearly as well as adults do
For many children, going back to school will evoke feelings of stress and anxiety. As adults we have learnt to recognise these emotions in ourselves – which helps us to manage them. But children can experience emotion without being aware of what it is that they’re feeling.
Simply labelling an emotion – saying ‘I know that it’s scary, going back to school’ or ‘I can see that you’re feeling worried about this’ – can help because it helps a child understand this strange new emotion that they’re feeling.
We can’t inhibit emotions
Lots of research suggests that simply telling a child what they should feel – ‘don’t be scared’ – is not an effective way to stop feeling scared. We can’t just inhibit emotions in this way. And constant talk along the lines of ‘look on the bright side’ can make a child feel more scared, not less.
Instead, the most effective route may be, quite simply, to let your child know that you are there for them. You love them, you understand what they are feeling, and can empathise with it – but you, yourself, are calm.
Your children will use you as a punchbag – let them
You pick them up from the first day and immediately they’re in a bad mood – tearful, tantrumming – but the teacher says that they’ve been good as gold during the day. Why do so many children seem to ‘save up’ their bad moods for their parents? Part of it is tiredness, of course. But children do also, definitely, tend to inhibit negative emotions during the day – particularly when they’re around people that they don’t know very well. Maybe, letting out some stress that they’ve been saving up during the day can help them to be calm, and relaxed, for tomorrow. As long as you manage not to take it personally.
Look after yourself through the transition, too
Saying goodbye is a wrench – waving goodbye to them at the school gates can be traumatic for you as much as them. Remember that your tendency will be to dwell on your last image of them – tearful, grabbing at your leg – but in fact, almost always, the tears will have been quickly forgotten. Make sure that you have something nice to do straight afterwards, though, to keep your mind off it.