Interview with Germaine Tan, a senior clinical psychologist at the Institute of Mental Health, Singapore, and Charlene Teo, a counsellor at Edge Focus.
Q: What do you tell your child to prepare him for school?
GT: Get your child prepared by telling him what time he has to wake up, get to school, recess, dismissal and who he can expect to take care of him after school. By preparing the child through this routine, he gets to know what to expect and he won’t be so anxious. Make sure your child has enough rest, it’s important – make sure he sleeps early and well.
CT: Parents need to take care of themselves. There is often so much focus on the child and what he needs to do that the anxiety is passed onto the child and the child feels the anxiousness. Parents should take time off for themselves.
Q: Some schools have measures implemented — for example, new students to go to classrooms to feel at home. Are they common nowadays?
GT: Most schools have orientation for primary-school kids prior to school re-opening, they arrange for the students to go back to school for one or two days to familiarise with the school environment, find out who the teachers are, get their books and uniform ready.
Q: Is it normal for children to feel some anxiety before going back to school?
Germaine Tan: Yes, especially for those who move from pre-school to primary school.
Q: What are children anxious about?
Charlene Teo: From kindergarten where they are the biggest kids, to primary school where they are the smallest kids, there is a fear that they are going from an environment they are so familiar with to a huge, gigantic school, three or four-stories high with so many students and everyone is bigger than them — that creates anxiety in them. At the same time, they may have heard of so many stories of school bullies or teachers who are very fierce as well as homework.
Q: What are some tell-tale signs that the adjustment period is not going well?
CT: Chatty kids might become a little quiet or in the morning they might start feeling ill. When it starts affecting the child’s daily activities, then the parents should approach the school counsellor who can also arrange to speak to the teachers.
GT: Find time to speak to the child to find out how the child is feeling regarding school. Do it through informal means such as over meal-times, playing games and weave your questions through those activities.
Q: What kind of issues do you see with children during this time?
CT: Children hear a lot of stories from older kids, so it is important to teach children to make their own decisions. Other than academic excellence, children need to learn that they have space to make mistakes.
Q: Should parents speak to teachers on a regular basis?
GT: If parents are worried about the anxiety symptoms that the child is facing, it will be useful to talk to the teachers because the teachers have good observation about the child’s in-class behaviour and will know how the child is coping in the classroom. Teachers also have direct links to school counsellors who can provide the additional support when necessary.
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