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My five-year-old is constantly sad since returning to school and I don't know why...

There are a couple of things to consider. But I'd certainly start by exploring more about his experiences in school in these first few weeks. It seems quite a coincidence that he has become so sad since starting back to school.

Since you refer to "returning" to school I am assuming he has just gone into Senior Infants. Has he the same teacher? While he may have found the academic work manageable in Juniors and may have friends, he might be struggling with a new teacher?

Depending on your experience with the school it might be worth chatting to other parents to find out if their children have ever struggled with any aspect of the school.

Armed with this knowledge you may be better informed going in to meet with his teacher and/or the principal to discuss what if any reasons they can think of that might be affecting your son such that he is so sad since going back to school.

It is also worth checking if any children have left the school, or if there have been other changes in personnel, like a change in SNA in the class. Perhaps he has lost a good friend, or is really missing an SNA who was with the class.

It may, of course, be nothing to do with what is happening at school itself. It may be that after a great summer of freedom and fun he is just struggling to settle back into the rhythm and routine of school.

We can never underestimate the impact that change can have on children. Even when that change is anticipated or cyclical (like going back to school) it can still be very disruptive for children.

But it is very difficult to pinpoint the source of distress when children can't explain it to us. Naturally, young children have a limited understanding of their own internal world and may also have a limited capacity to articulate whatever understanding they do have.

Think about it from your own perspective. If you seem upset and someone asks you "what is wrong?" you may be able to answer easily if there is just a single defined problem, like wanting to go to the cinema but not having enough money for the ticket.

However, if the problem is more complicated, because for example, it is to do with a relationship and how that impacts on your self-esteem or feelings of dependency, or anxieties about rejection, even adults may struggle to answer the question.

There is a social expectation, too, that when we are asked a question that we will give an answer. So we can feel pressure to respond, which, when we don't know what to answer, can be distressing in itself.

So to help your son express what is going on internally, it will help him more if you can avoid asking him questions which he is unlikely to be able to answer.

In my experience, making empathetic statements, about what we can observe, or what we can guess, is much more helpful to children.

So, you may comment to him about how sad he appears. Acknowledge that his sadness only seems apparent since he went back to school. Guess out loud about possible changes to personnel or friends in school that you think might be having an impact on him.

Guess out loud about his possible loss of freedom or flexibility since school has resumed. Guess out loud about possible separation anxiety from you or his dad since school has resumed.

Even if your guesses are not correct your son will feel like you are doing your best to understand him. He, and you, may find that some of your guesses may prompt him to identify exactly what is upsetting him, or at least point him in the direction of what is bothering him.

Sometimes, children don't even need a particular problem solved. It is enough for them that we are trying to be supportive and understanding.

My five-year-old son was in great form all summer. However, since returning to school he just seems sad all of the time. This is really puzzling as he gets on great academically and from what I gather from his teacher mixes well with the other children. Lately he told me that he had "bad feelings" and was crying a lot for no apparent reason. I tried discussing why he might be feeling sad but he said he couldn't tell me why he had those feelings as he didn't know himself.

Have you any advice on how best to speak to my son?

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