Emma Kenny has teamed up with Kleenex and confesses that she is 'one of those mums' who puts notes in her children's lunches saying 'I miss you' and 'I love you'. The advice from both Kleenex and Emma is to pop a packet of tissues in your children's school bag along with an affectionate note as a means of preparing for any inevitability- even if it's a few tears, to let them know you are there for them.
For those who aren't familiar with back to school syndrome- can you tell us a bit about it?
Back to school syndrome is something that the majority of mums experience around this time and it tends to be around the feelings of anxiety and impending change because their children are returning back to school. For some parents, this might be the first time that their children are going to school, it could be the transition between primary and secondary and it could indeed be them going off to university.
It's this whole idea of change- parents have had this bubble that they have been in during the holiday where they take some time off with their children even if they work full time. You get that core experience of being with your loved ones and it can be quite emotional to think of them returning to the habits that don't involve you such as at school. Also, the challenges that they may face when they start school, so it's down to over thinking coupled with the anxiety over your child going back to school that mirrors why people suffer from it.
Why are some children less anxious at this time of year than their parents?
The majority of children are less anxious! It's almost a mirror image; the parents who worry reflects the kids who don't. Most children who are going back to school don't worry because they are quite immediate. We are taught as we get older to become anxious about our future. For children- you are not going to be thinking about tomorrow, next week, next year and what you are going to be doing in the next five years, you are just feeling the present experience. Most children aren't thinking about the long term when they go back to school. They are actually thinking about meeting their friends, talking about their holidays, what shoes they have just got and what their bag looks like- very much in the moment. Their anxieties are less because they are just taking in everything on a day to day basis.
Some children are anxious and the research shows that a percentage are worried about going back to school. Those feelings tend to be formulaic about meeting new friends, identifying where they have to go for their new classes etc. They are dealing with the reality and not over thinking their future. That is why children and parents have such different thought processes because we are dealing with very child-centric parents and immediate reaction kids.
What sort of negative feelings can children experience before the start of a new term and how can parents help to ease these nerves?
The best thing you can do as parent is prepare them. If you are communicating with your child you can prepare them. It's sad that some parents forget to communicate with their children. I always say to parents to have that individual time with their children. Twenty minutes a day to sit down and talk to your child about what's going on in their life means you can negotiate and navigate any issues that are arising as they come up. Make sure that you create space where your child can explore their worries and concerns.
When it comes down to what the worries children have about going to school, it tends to be what we'd expect. It's a new environment, they may struggle to make friends, they may be focusing on previous experiences when things haven't gone their way and worry they may play out again in the new school year; meeting teachers. Even the simple things like the organisational side of school, children struggle with like; what time do I need to go for my lunch? What do I need to bring with me? For children who go to secondary school that tends to be something which raises anxiety levels. It's a much bigger environment- lots more people, lots of big personalities and lots of organisation required. It tends to be those things that are creating the anxiety as opposed to them thinking about succeeding in the next five years, which is what parents are more likely to be concerned about.
Why do you think the highest numbers of parents who suffer from BTSS are those from London?
When you think about London it's a micro chasm of the world; it's a cooking pot of pressure. There are many people who are educationally orientated, career oriented, there are a large number of people there and the different people coming in from different backgrounds.
There are many changes that you are going to encounter and parents worry about the new environment and new people from all over the country, not just from your local area. Sometimes the personalities that are going to be entering it might not be the friendship group that your child is used to.
I know the number of places they give out differs to say a school in the north. It's not necessary your locality- there is a lot of different reasons children go to a particular school.
I guess that many parents are career driven and if you live in London, you can't help but get immersed in that drive, so that might be why they feel more anxious than anywhere else.
It's a faster pace of life, so anywhere in the world where there is a faser pace of life, there are higher stress levels. So someone from London will feel much more anxiety than someone from say the Lake District.
What are the common pitfalls that can be made before going back to school for both parents and children that might set them back in their progress?
With organisation, the problem you are faced with if your children are not prepared is that they will be considered by their teachers as not well organised. They will also have peers reflecting that they have not brought the right things.
Even though that may be tiny fragment of your world it means a great deal to a child. As a parent, you can reduce stress by making sure that they are prepared for the school year.
Another thing is to prepare your child for what they might face in the school year and how to deal with it. Talking to a child about who to ask for help, what to do if someone is mean to you, who to go to to explore your feelings. Create a sense of always being there with your child, so even if you are not present, you are still with them. Just knowing that there is a coping stagey when they have any struggles and they know that you are there. It's really paramount in making them feel comfortable in their experience of school. I think that's the biggest area that parents need to concentrate on; preparing physically, i.e. all the pens and pencils that are needed and uniform but also preparing them with lots of support strategies so they know that to do if that particular thing happens. The whole action, behaviour, consequence cycle.
Why are children less organised?
Children aren't naturally organised. They are all about play and they are not worried about the way their uniform looks or whether they have got pens and pencils. That's the adult world so that's why it's really important as adults that we prepare our children.
I have a 12 year old lad, even though he can remember that he is doing on a daily basis, has not thinking about whether his shirt looks right or whether he needs a new tie- that's my job. Even when it comes down to his domestic sciences to cook, it's my job to go out and get that shopping for him. He doesn't plan- that is something that older people start to believe in, in particular as they head towards university. We encourage and expect children to be independent thinkers in that way.
Organisation is important because it reduces stress. Anything that can reduce stress when a new experience is about to occur is incredibly uplifting. Even I you think about an adult starting a new job- knowing that you are wearing the right clothes and you feel confident in them, knowing that you have all the things that your are going to need for your day, they make you feel prepared and ready. When your feel prepared and ready, you feel more confident, when you feel more confident, your self-worth is heightened, when your self-worth is higher you will form better relationships with the people around out. As a cycle, organisation matters.
Parents should start there and continue to work with their children so that they create their own formula for organisation in the long term.
There are a lot of things I see on Facebook about parents feeling unhappy when their children are off because it's so disruptive to their routine, so why then are they so distraught when their children go back to school?
As a mum, I work all the time, but my kids are at home at the moment and I love it. I find it really difficult to empathise with parents who are looking forward to their kids going back to school. I am with the larger percentage that are really upset about it. I guess for parents it's less of an emotional want when they are complaining and more of a physical want. If they have had to find childcare in the holidays, pay for expensive school clubs, and think about getting them to and from places, it breaks routine. So when they are faced with the idea of kids going back to school, and going back to those that they are used to and reforming habits, it can feel like a positive thing.
When it occurs we feel a bit of grief, even for the parents that want to get their kids back into school. Not having them available, not seeing them have the freedom that they have during the holidays and not having that flexibility in place. School is quite an inflexible place- you have to go and be there in those hours; you can't just go home for lunch for example. I think it's about breaking that habit. You might feel that you are looking forward to them going back, but when it happens it can feel quite grief stricken. You have lost something and it tends to be knowing that your kids are safe and happy and doing something fun.
Finally, what's next for you?
I'm going to be recoding a new series, my company launches in September - a health and wellbeing site to get fit and healthy. I am continuing whit my columns and appearances on Good Morning Britain so they are the things that are going on in this moment in time.
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