Back to school: How to help children have a smooth start to the new academic year

The start of the new academic year will see many children embarking on their primary or secondary school careers.

Dr Maddie Ohl from University of West London says that in recent years there has been increased recognition of the importance of social and emotional aspects of learning and how they can be supported.This has led to the the development and delivery of programmes such SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning, Friends, Incredible Years and Pyramid.

Dr Ohl, who has worked with Pyramid evaluating their programmes, suggests that what most parents actually want to know is how they can help their child adjust to their new environment and routine.

For the younger ones it is important parents realise that their child will probably be quite overwhelmed by all the new information, people and activities and this is going to impact on their energy levels and make them very tired.

Usual after-school activities are probably best kept to the minimum in the first few weeks and whilst parents will be eager for feedback about those early days and should certainly encourage their child to talk about their new experiences they should be tactful about pressing them for details. For many children starting primary school it is their first opportunity to take part in a private domain in which they operate independently of their parents and siblings and they may just choose to disclose the minimum!

Older children starting secondary school are just as likely to be concerned about practical issues as they are about coping with work and friendship ones. Recent research by Dr Frances Rice and her colleagues demonstrated this.Using the School Concerns Questionnaire they found that Year 6 pupils about to make the transition and Year 7 pupils who had completed their first year showed similar levels of concern about remembering equipment and changing classes as they did about more obvious problems such as managing homework and friendship/peer issues.

Parents of new secondary pupils need to encourage their child to develop organisational skills such as packing their school bag the night before, using their timetable to ensure they have everything they need for the next day and to familiarise themselves with where they are expected to be for each lesson. By supporting their child in developing these coping skills parents will enable them to feel more confident and independent as they settle into secondary school life.