Wednesday 22 October 2014

Simple steps to take stress out of the daily run

David Coleman gives his solutions to the common issues we face returning to school

Published 09/08/2014 | 00:00

Getting the children back to school can mean a little bit more 'me' time, or at least an easing of the pressure to keep them busy and occupied, especially if you are trying to juggle work as well.

However, like with every silver lining, there is always a bit of cloud. Here are six things you might be dreading about your children going back to school and some ways to make life easier:

1. Homework

There used to be a time when homework was a child's job. But in recent years it seems that parents are expected to sit, monitor, correct and cajole their children through the 'few minutes' of homework that seem to take hours to complete.

The key to making homework easier for you and your children is to remember that their homework is ultimately their responsibility. If they make a mess of it, or they don't do it then they will have to deal with the consequences from teacher.

Your job is to make sure that they make the time to do the work and that they have a comfortable, well-lit and distraction-free environment in which to do it.

I think it is well worth fixing a homework routine, where the time and location of homework doesn't vary. This makes it more likely that homework will become a habit, rather than a long-fingered, ever-moveable chore.

Because small children often have the attention span of a gnat many of us choose to set our little ones up at the kitchen table to do their homework while we get the dinner ready.

The only dilemma with the kitchen table is that it can get crowded and noisy. So, if you find that they are too distracted set up a desk somewhere quiet where you can come in and out to check on them.

2. Getting everyone up and out in the morning

There is nothing worse than the school morning alarm going off beside your head and knowing that you now face a 30-minute battle to get your children out of the bed, never mind getting them fed, washed, dressed and out to the bus, the car or the footpath.

However, a little bit of planning and preparation can make life a bit easier, although nothing but a series of early nights will take away the creaking exhaustion of having to be up in the first place.

So, set your own alarm a few minutes ahead of when you need to get the children up. This gives you a few moments of peace to savour! It might also give you time to shower and dress yourself, before you focus on everyone else.

Get an alarm for each child's bedroom and set it up on the floor beside the door. Having it beside the door means your child can't just hit snooze and roll over. This makes the actual getting out of bed their job, not yours.

Once they are up it is just about relying on 'things you prepared earlier' to keep things running smoothly.

Have the uniforms laid out the night before, and have bathing or showering out of the way the previous night too. Have the lunches ready to be assembled or made (see below for more ideas).

Take turns organising the children in the morning - that way you don't shoulder the burden alone.

If all else fails, bring them to school in their pyjamas; you'll only have to do it once.

3. Bullying

We all worry about our children fitting in among their peers in school. We anticipate the occasional tears and tantrums that lead to falling out with friends. But we really dread discovering that our child may be the target of bullying.

We sometimes worry about our children getting into fights or being teased. But, if these are one off or very occasional things, they are not really bullying.

Bullying is an active and targeted thing. By its nature, it is usually ongoing and insidious. When a child is being bullied, the taunting, isolation or aggression is repeated and sustained.

Many children who are targeted don't feel able to tell about what is happening to them. They may feel embarrassed, or they may fear they will make it worse, if they tell.

Even other children, who see bullying happen, can be afraid to speak up in case they draw the bullying onto themselves.

With luck your child's school will have good policies in place and the ethos of the school will encourage the pupils to speak out whenever they see bullying in action.

Giving your child the skills to assertively talk up, both to their peers and to adults, will be a great buffer against bullying. Bullies more often target children that they think they can domineer or overpower and those who they believe will keep the bullying hidden.

Teach your child to say no and to ask the teacher for help if they feel they are being picked on, unfairly, by other children. Teach them not to walk away from teasing but to acknowledge it and act like they don't care.

If you discover that they are being regularly mocked, put down or isolated within their class then go and speak about it with their teacher sooner rather than later. Sometimes children need adults to step in and stop the bullying.

4. Getting called in to meet the teacher

The first time you get a call from the school asking you to come and meet the teacher you will most probably feel your stomach fall into your shoes.

It can bring back all our memories of being in trouble ourselves in school, to have to face our child's teacher when they have some issue to discuss with us.

Some teachers do take on a very condescending, blaming or patronising tone when telling us that our child needs to do better.

This can make the meeting a very difficult one to engage in. However, we need to remember that the teacher has our child's best interest at heart and so, despite 'how' they tell us something, the 'what' that they are telling us is probably important

So, if at all possible, try to approach the meeting as a collaborative attempt to solve some problem that your child, or the teacher, is encountering. Then you may find that it changes the tone and atmosphere for the better.

Try not to feel criticised if the teacher is complaining about your child's behaviour or attitude. Instead, see it is an opportunity to make life easier for your child. Chances are that they are not enjoying school much if they are regularly in trouble.

Remember that teachers don't know everything and that you know your child best. Don't be afraid to share your methods for dealing with your child and be open to ideas the teacher may have.

5. Choosing, making and eating lunches

Making the school lunches and hoping they get eaten can often be soul-destroying. We are all aware of the need to have healthy lunches for our children. But often the healthy food is least enjoyed.

There is no quick or easy solution. However, engaging your child in making their own lunch for school will help. If they are involved in the process then they can't complain about the lunch that is packed.

While it is a lovely aspiration to offer new and exciting tastes, the school lunch may not be the time to do it, since we want to maximise the likelihood that our child will eat it. They need the energy!

So, when it comes to the weekly shop, have the school lunches in mind.

Try to have different food options available, even though many children love the predictability of the same lunch every day. Sometimes novelty breads like pittas, wraps and rolls as alternatives to sliced bread makes it all more interesting.

Play with country themes, like Italian (pasta salad) or Mexican (tortillas). Consider hot foods like quickly stir fried rice, or soups kept warm in flasks. Things you can prepare the night before and just assemble or reheat in the morning make the task easier.

But, if only for your own sanity, get your child to help make their own lunch. It is a great habit to get them into.

6. Coughs, colds and nits!

In truth there is little we can do about all the germs, bugs and lice that lurk in the great congregations of school children. Where you have large numbers of children you will always get stuff passed along.

However, maintaining a healthy lifestyle of good food and exercise will give your child's immune system the best chance of working to its maximum. The healthier they are to start, the quicker they'll bounce back from illness.

Remember how tiring school can be and how easy it is to get run down, especially in the winter months. Your local chemist will have lots of vitamins, or food supplements that might give their immune systems a bit of a boost.

Keeping girls' hair tied back will make it harder for the lice to spread and keeping boys' hair shorter does the same job. Lice can't jump so they only transfer when your child's hair touches the hair of another child.

Lice are not the sign of dirty hair, they are equally happy on clean or dirty hair (apparently it is the scalp they seek!)

If you are aware that your child has picked up lice then do quickly inform the school. Chances are that they are already widespread in the class and every family will probably need to treat their child.

•David Coleman is a clinical psychologist

Irish Independent

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