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Beat the back-to-school blues: starting the tough autumn term

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The start of the autumn term can be tough for kids, particularly if they are about to enter the dreaded exam years. To ease the transition, Jason Broderick suggests you prioritise their health and wellbeing over their academic timetables.

The holidays are over and the autumn term has begun. This can be a stressful, even depressing time for children especially if exams are looming. They need to feel confident and organised as they head back to school, and mentally prepared to knuckle down and revise when the time comes. So, what can parents do to help? Being prepared is not necessarily about hours of study, study, study – of course this will in time become an essential part of the approach but first let’s discuss the foundations

Establishing a firm footing will enable your child to survive this intense period unscathed and ensure the family is still on speaking terms when the next summer holidays arrive. Positive health and wellbeing – including mental health – contribute to a child’s ability to flourish, thrive and achieve. Equipping young people with the skills to cope with potentially stressful situations will enable them to navigate the challenges that might lie ahead.

If children are nurtured in an environment that promotes positive wellbeing, not only are they likely to meet or exceed their potential during term time, but they will leave  school and embark on further education or employment much more confidently.

Wellbing 101

In terms of children’s general wellbeing, there are three key areas to consider. Are your kids sleeping well? Are they getting enough exercise? What is their daily diet? Of course, routine bedtime hours are unappealing to teenagers but a huge part of being prepared and coping is being able to function – without sleep we can’t function at our best.

With 10 months until the exams, there is time to work on lifestyle choices. Monitor your children’s routine for a period of time and discuss areas that could be improved. Strengthen their understanding about how these three key areas boost wellness and set us on the path for success.

Your aim is to assist by being supportive and realistic. If you add unnecessary pressure beyond ensuring your children are revising, sleeping, implementing movement and eating well, ask yourself, what message are you sending?

Another thing to keep in mind is that everyone in your child’s year group is in the same boat, and so are their families. Students all get the same lessons and sit the same exams. Knowing they’re not alone can be a comfort to children, and to bring this home you should encourage them to start revising with friends. In fact, getting your kids to set up group chats for each subject is a great idea. They can share notes and help out with work, thereby making revision time more efficient.

Results aren’t everything

Remember, whilst exams are important, they generally focus  on what your kids are capable of academically. They won’t necessarily reflect how talented they may be in other areas, and they certainly won’t highlight positive personal characteristics such as kindness and integrity – all of which are important. Results don’t always tell the whole story.

Encourage children to do their best, rather than be the best.Exams are for a season. They’re important and need to be taken seriously but, however tough they may seem, they’ll be over in the blink of an eye.

Never downplay the fact that schoolwork is hard. If your child is having trouble with a certain subject, let him know this is totally acceptable, not something to feel bad about. You can’t stress this enough. Schoolwork is hard.

Students are not supposed to understand everything straight away – that’s why there are teachers and study guides, and services like tutors. It might take a couple of goes for your child to review the content before it sticks, and that’s fine because the exams are months away. That said, now is the time to identify any areas with which your children need help, and to get them that help.

If you do all this, your children will be well set up to enjoy the new school year, and perhaps even the end-of-year exams.

Checklist for parents

  • Ensure your children are eating and exercising well, and getting a suitable amount of sleep
  • Encourage them to engage in activities that involve going outside, and avoid overuse of screens – this can apply to leisure pursuits as well as revision techniques
  • Set realistic academic goals, and manage both of your expectations
  • Involve yourself in your children’s schoolwork and help when you can, while encouraging them to revise with friends
  • Attend any meetings the school invites you to about exams. If you hear from the teachers about how, where and when the exams will take place,you can support your child to be organised and prepared
  • Direct any questions or concerns you have about exams to the school, ratherthan to your child, and arrange for extra tuition in certain subjects if you need to
  • Encourage your children to talk to their form tutor or subject teacher if they are stressed about their exams. Remember that a small amount of anxiety is normal and not harmful
  • Start each week on a positive note and also give your child something to look forward to. Plan to go for a walk together at the weekend, or suggest they invite friends over

Jason Broderick is a wellbeing coach and counselling psychologist at Discovery Bay International School (DBIS). To follow him on Instagram, head to @wellbeingcoach101. For more on DBIS, visit www.dbis.edu.hk

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