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APS issues advice on starting school

The start of school is an important milestone in a child’s development. It is not just about the first day, but is a process that starts weeks before and continues months after the start of first term, according to psychologists from the Australian Psychological Society.

The psychologists, who are developing the government-funded KidsMatter Transition to School: Parent Initiative, say that supporting children during this time is important because research shows that a positive start to school can have long-term benefits for children’s learning and relationships.

While many children will make a smooth start to school, it is not unusual to have some bumps along the way. The APS says research suggests that around one third of children have some problems and one in five experience serious difficulties during transition, which if not addressed can have ongoing academic and social implications.

The KidsMatter Transition to School: Parent Initiative has been established because of the growing understanding about the critical role that a successful start to school plays in protecting children’s mental health and wellbeing and ensuring they are able to achieve to their full potential. It is being piloted in 17 schools.

Parents and carers play an important role in helping to manage the transition into primary school and a cooperative approach involving parents, carers and schools has been shown by research to produce the best results for children but the orientation offered to families varies school by school.

In a statement issued today, the APS said many parents report they value information provided by schools and would like more, as well as increased opportunities to meet staff, access the school site and other families in the school community. Many parents also report that they would like more assistance on helping their child manage change, and the behaviours that might follow.

APS: Tips for parents
• Support good thinking: Speak positively about school, while also listening to children’s concerns and reassuring them that it is okay to feel nervous about change.
• Inform children: Answer any questions they have, and give them opportunities to become familiar with the school environment and other children and families if possible.
• Practise routines: Help your child to prepare for the routines they will need, from getting up and going to bed at certain times, to dressing themselves, and the journey there and back.
• Promote problem solving: Talk to your child about what they will do in different situations, such as when they are in class and need to go to the toilet. Teach them the process of problem solving.
• Use the language of feelings: Help your children to build up their vocabulary, so they can tell you
• Read and paint: Books about starting school can help spark conversations with your children, as can using painting or drawing as a tool for helping them to express themselves.
• Be aware: Children who have an older sibling at school may not necessarily have an easier time adjusting or react in the same way. They may have picked up ideas about what will happen at school. Talk through these.
• Encourage relationship skills: Help your child learn friendship skills such as joining in, listening and taking turns, and talk with them about their relationships.
• Expect tiredness: The first days and weeks can be exhausting. Make sure children are well nourished and get plenty of rest. You may need to limit after-school activities temporarily.
• Time to talk: From the start make sure your children have opportunities to talk about school, but remember not to overwhelm them with too many questions if they are tired or try to force them to talk.
• Get involved: Having parents and carers who are involved in their education and school community can help children develop a sense of belonging. Seek out other families with children at the school.
• Don’t forget to celebrate: The transition to school can be challenging but it is also an exciting milestone in your child’s life. Taking time to celebrate this important event can make it special for the whole family.

KidsMatter is an Australian initiative that has been shown to improve wellbeing, support academic learning and reduce mental health issues. It was developed by the Australian Psychological Society, beyondblue, Early Childhood Australia, Principals Australia and with funding from the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing and beyondblue.

For more information on how to how to assist children, go to www.kidsmatter.edu.au

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