Written by Choo Li-Hsian 

As the school holidays wind down, parents and children will need to ramp up their preparations to meet the new school year. Most kids are naturally excited to get back to learning and seeing their teachers and friends again. However, there will be children, those starting school for the first time or those fearful of the pandemic, who might feel anxious and nervous about the new school year. Here are some steps that we can take as parents to help ease their worries and ensure that this transition proceeds more smoothly.


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1. Sleep 

If your children’s sleep schedules have gone a little haywire over the holidays, you might want to start now to get this back on track. Slowly move their wake-up times earlier by 15 minutes each day until you achieve the desired timing. Then adjust their bedtime based on the recommended amount of sleep they need. A representative of The Children’s Sleep Charity in the UK said, “Sleep is so important in order to ensure that children can meet their full potential in every aspect of their lives.” They also pointed out that interestingly, teachers can tell which pupils are well-rested and ready for the day ahead, and which are not. Also, “parents do not seem to realise how sleep deprived their children are during the day and how it affects their behaviour and performance at school.”  Although there is no hard and fast rule, the general guide is toddlers need around 12 hours of sleep a night; children aged three to six need about 10 to 12 hours; seven to 12-year-olds require 10 to 11 hours, and teenagers should get around eight to nine hours. Ideally, there should be no “screens” of any sort allowed one hour before bedtime. 


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2. Reading and Quiet Time 

Closely linked to the subject of sleep is bedtime reading to your child as this can also help them to fall asleep. Reading books aloud together is an excellent daily routine as aside from developing a useful skill for school, it also allows you to bond with your child in a meaningful way. In our family, bedtime is our quality time where we talk about our day and read books together. Talking about what happened daily as children start a new school year can help them understand the things that happen around them better. Your responses can help them frame their own choices on how to respond to challenges they may face in the classroom. Choosing the right books to read together about what school might be like can also help to allay any anxious feelings children may have. We love Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna on Youtube which also has an accompanying activity kit with a sheet where kids can draw out their fear as a little creature. 


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3. Give Your Child a Good Breakfast 

Whether your children have this meal at home or at school, it is key that they start each day with a healthy and filling breakfast. A good breakfast helps kids to concentrate well and to stay focused throughout the school day. There is sound science behind the claim that breakfast impacts school performance positively. This report shares that children who eat a complete breakfast have been shown to work faster and make fewer mistakes in math problems, and to perform better on vocabulary tests than those who ate only a partial breakfast. The piece also said they show improved concentration, alertness, comprehension, memory and learning. Here are some easy healthy breakfast ideas for busy parents.


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4. Reviewing the New School Routine Together 

If your child is starting any or “big” school for the first time, reassure them by looking at pictures of their new school building, teachers and staff online. If allowed, take them for a casual visit to the actual premises and arrange a brief meeting with the homeroom teacher before the school starts. Review the route to school (whether by external or own transportation) and also the daily routine together, focusing on the subject timetables as well as drop-off and pick-up timings. Try to also build in an extra 10 to 15 minutes of “getting ready” time into regular school mornings to allow children to calm down and regulate their feelings. This will help them get to school on time with less anxiety and stress. Unnecessary rushing leads to heightened feelings in both parents and children, that sometimes results in angry words and tears.


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5. Have Fun Shopping for School Supplies  

Obtain the list of required books and school supplies early. Get children involved in the planning process for the purchase of these items. For older children, you give them a budget and ask them to think of places to shop for these items. Then, make a special outing for this purpose and allow your kids to buy a few fun items to add to the mix. For example, a pencil case with their favourite character or a water bottle with a special keep cool feature. Later, enlist their help to label the items purchased with their names. Making these choices will empower them and help them look forward to their first day of school with greater anticipation. Get your children to practice packing their schoolbag before school starts, and later on, to do this the night before each school day.


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6. Creating a Comfortable Space to Complete Homework Consistently, Schedule in Physical Activity 

It is important that children have a comfortable space to do their homework at a consistent time each day. A good space like this at home will also give children more motivation to do extra study to prepare their lessons for the following day, helping them feel ready and successful each school day. Encourage your child to create and put up charts that are useful to their current lessons in this space. Children can also nominate a revision buddy that they can meet online regularly to discuss lessons and do homework together from their respective homework spaces. Make sure to schedule some physical activity daily after homework is done. The benefits of this are commonly known but well-summarised here.


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7. Teach Children to Overcome Their Fear of Asking Questions and Failure 

Model an inquiring mind around kids at home. Encourage them to take notice of and think about things around them by asking open-ended questions. Show them how asking questions helps them learn new things and to grow as learners. Many kids avoid asking questions in class as they are worried about looking stupid or like they are “sucking up” to their teacher. Explain to your children how, when you ask a question, you are demonstrating active learning as this shows you have identified potential issues and things you do not yet understand about a topic. Asking questions helps us to organise our knowledge better.

Another factor that can hold children back from having a good school experience is the fear of failure. Kids who fear failure tend to give up before they even begin. They also get upset and angry at themselves when they don’t succeed at something for the first time, and set themselves up for anxiety and poor performance moving forward. 


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8. Connecting with the Homeroom Teacher 

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want them to grow well physically, mentally, socially and emotionally. To achieve this, a good relationship with your child’s homeroom teacher is not only beneficial but essential. However, too often these days, we see a lot of “helicopter parenting”, and may even be guilty of it ourselves. As a result, teachers may feel overwhelmed and under siege from parents’ constant demands. Always remember that your child’s teacher is also human and needs to feel supported. Take the initiative to send them an email or written note introducing your child, how he or she learns best, his or her likes and dislikes, and any learning challenges he or she faces. Be open-minded to feedback on your child even if it is negative, and work with the teacher on strategies to help your child improve. When parents and teachers share relevant information with each other about a child, the better equipped both will be to help that child achieve academically and grow holistically. Do show appreciation through personal notes and little gifts on occasions like Teachers’ Day.


All the best for your little (or not so little!) one’s first day of the new school year. Sometimes paying attention to the little things (like a surprise note to say “I Love You” in their lunchbox) can go a long way and make a big impact in the long run!