By Victor Ojelabi
The social media has always provided an avenue for entertainment for everyone including my humble self. That is why you will see someone all by himself with his phone laughing without a care in the world. That was the situation I caught myself some while back while I was going through my friends Whatsapp statuses. I came across this very pictorial illustration that effectively captured students return to the classroom. It depicted agitated children crying-obviously wishing the holiday had not ended, laughing mothers, who were happy they children were going with their wahala, and worried fathers who knew what was coming for their pockets.
That said, the back-to-school period is an important time for parents as well as their children. In this week’s article, I took time out to research on what parents will need to do for their children as they go (back) to school as first timers, old timers or simply students in a new school environment. This also includes a few safety tips parents need to familiarise themselves with. Since I do not know it all, I spoke to some parents, teachers and guardians to come up with some of these tips. I also drew material from experts like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
Growing up, you can be sure that I have had my own fair share of new schools, new teachers and new friends quite often. Though exhilarating and exciting to always meet new people, I can assure you that it can also be daunting and downright uneasy for most. Expectedly, many children become nervous about new situations, including changing to a new school, classroom or teacher. This may occur at any age. If your child seems nervous, it can be helpful to rehearse entry into the new situation. Take them to visit the new school or classroom before the first day of school. Remind them that there are probably a lot of students who are uneasy about the first day of school, just like them. Thankfully, teachers know that students are nervous and will make an extra effort to make sure everyone feels as comfortable as possible. If your child seems nervous, ask them what they are worried about and help them problem solve ways to master the new situation.
Point out the positive aspects of starting school to create positive anticipation about the first day of class. They will see old friends and meet new ones. Talk with them about positive experiences they may have had in the past at school or with other groups of children. Find another child in the neighbourhood with whom your child can walk to school, ride on the bus or follow in a car.
If it is a new school for your child, attend any available orientations and take an opportunity to tour the school before the first day. Bring the child to school a few days prior to class to play on the playground and get comfortable in the new environment. If you feel it is needed, drive your child (or walk with her) to school and pick her up on the first day, and get there early on the first day to cut down on unnecessary stress.
Make sure to touch base with your child’s new teacher at the beginning or end of the day so the teacher knows how much you want to be supportive of your child’s school experience. Consider starting your child on their school sleep/wake schedule a week or so ahead of time so that time change is not a factor on their first couple of days at school.
Your child’s bag and the content at this point matters. Dear parent, please choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and a padded back. Pack light. Organise the backpack to use all of its compartments. Pack heavier items closest to the centre of the back. The backpack should never weigh more than 10% to 20% of your child’s body weight. Go through the pack with your child weekly, and remove unneeded items to keep it light. Remind your child to always use both shoulder straps. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles. Adjust the pack so that the bottom sits at your child’s waist.
Children are generally ready to start walking to school at 9 to 11 years of age. Outside safety concerns, I don’t see any reason why a child should not do so, given that the school is not very far from the house. This serves as an avenue for the child to exercise as well as other, advantages which I will not delve into now. If you will allow your child walk to school, kindly make sure your child’s walk to school is a safe route with well-trained adult crossing guards at every intersection.
Identify other children in the neighbourhood with whom your child can walk to school. In neighbourhoods with higher levels of traffic, consider organising a “walking school bus,” in which an adult accompanies a group of neighbourhood children walking to school. Please, be realistic about your child’s pedestrian skills. Because small children are impulsive and less cautious around traffic, carefully consider whether or not your child is ready to walk to school without adult supervision. If the route home requires crossing busier streets than your child can reasonably do safely, have an adult, older friend or sibling escort them home.
If your children are young or are walking to a new school, walk with them or have another adult walk with them the first week or until you are sure they know the route and can do it safely. If your child will need to cross a street on the way to school, practice safe street crossing with them before the start of school. I still remember the age old “look left, right and left again before you cross” admonition I got from my parents as a child. Additionally, the use of bright-coloured clothing or a visibility device, like a vest or armband with reflectors, will make your child more visible to drivers.
On eating, one of the best advice I have heard that remains golden is, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.” Interestingly, studies show that children who eat a nutritious breakfast function better. They do better in school, and have better concentration and more energy. Some schools (a few private ones) provide breakfast for children; if yours does not, make sure they eat a breakfast that contains some protein before leaving for school.
One of the campaign promises of the APC led government was to provide lunch for students in school. At a time, this programme was running. I can’t say if it is still running now however. Please, help your child pack a healthy balanced lunch if you can or ensure you are aware what they buy for lunch. Also ensure you know who dishes out your child’s lunch. Only God knows the kind of nonsense we were forced to buy back in school those yesteryears. I am sure those with children in standard private schools have very little to worry about in this aspect.
Next is bullying. Bullying or cyberbullying is when one child picks on another child repeatedly. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or social. It can happen at school, on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighbourhood, over the Internet, or through mobile devices like cell phones.
When your child is bullied, alert school officials to the problems and work with them on solutions. Teach your child to be comfortable with when and how to ask a trusted adult for help. Ask them to identify who they can ask for help. Recognize the serious nature of bullying and acknowledge your child’s feelings about being bullied. Help your child learn how to respond by teaching your child how to:
1. Look the bully in the eye.
2. Stand tall and stay calm in a difficult situation.
3. Walk away.
Teach your child how to say in a firm voice.
1. “I don’t like what you are doing.”
2. “Please do NOT talk to me like that.”
Encourage your child to make friends with other children. Support outside activities that interest your child. Make sure an adult who knows about the bullying can watch out for your child’s safety and well-being when you cannot be there. Monitor your child’s social media or texting interactions so you can identify problems before they get out of hand.
When your child is the bully, be sure your child knows that bullying is never okay. Set firm and consistent limits on your child’s aggressive behaviour. Help your child learn empathy for other children by asking them to consider how the other child feels about the way your child treated them. Ask your child how they would feel if someone bullied them. Also, be a positive role mode. Show children they can get what they want without teasing, threatening or hurting someone.
Use effective, non-physical discipline, such as loss of privileges. Focus on praising your child when they behave in positive ways such as helping or being kind to other children as opposed to bullying them. Develop practical solutions with the school principal, teachers, school social workers or psychologists, and parents of the children your child has bullied.
When your child is a bystander, encourage your child to tell a trusted adult about the bullying. Encourage your child to join with others in telling bullies to stop. Help your child support other children who may be bullied. Encourage your child to include these children in activities.
Outside bullying, lets also consider the before & after school child care they get. During early and middle childhood, children need supervision. A responsible adult should be available to get them ready and off to school in the morning and supervise them after school until you return home from work. If a family member will care for your child, communicate the need to follow consistent rules set by the parent regarding schedules, discipline and homework.
Children approaching adolescence (11- and 12-year-olds) should not come home to an empty house in the afternoon unless they show unusual maturity for their age. If alternate adult supervision is not available, parents should make special efforts to supervise their children from a distance. Children should have a set time when they are expected to arrive at home and should check in with a neighbour or with a parent by telephone.
If you choose an after-school programme like extramural lessons for your child, inquire about the training of the staff. There should be a high staff-to-child ratio, trained persons to address health issues and emergencies, and the rooms and the playground should be safe, not just teaching and learning.
Getting enough sleep is critical for a child to be successful in school. Children who do not get enough sleep have difficulty concentrating and learning as well as they can. Set a consistent bedtime for your child and stick with it every night. Having a bedtime routine that is consistent will help your child settle down and fall asleep. Also have your child turn off electronic devices well before bedtime. Try to have the home as quiet and calm as possible when younger children are trying to fall asleep.
On home works and study habits, create an environment that is conducive to doing homework starting at a young age. Children need a consistent work space in their bedroom or another part of the home that is quiet, without distractions, and promotes study. Schedule ample time for homework; build this time into choices about participation in after school activities.
Importantly, establish a household rule that the TV and other electronic distractions stay off during homework time while additionally supervising computer and Internet use. Be available to answer questions and offer assistance, but never do a child’s homework for him or her. Take steps to help alleviate eye fatigue, neck fatigue and brain fatigue while studying. It may be helpful to close the books for a few minutes, stretch, and take a break periodically when it will not be too disruptive.
If your child is struggling with a particular subject, speak with your child’s teacher for recommendations on how you or another person can help your child at home or at school. If you have concerns about the assignments your child is receiving, talk with their teacher. For general homework problems that cannot be worked out with the teacher, a tutor may be considered.
Some children need extra help organizing their homework. Checklists, timers, and parental supervision can help overcome homework problems. Some children may need help remembering their assignments. Work with your child and their teacher to develop an appropriate way to keep track of their assignments – such as an assignment notebook.