How do you Prepare a Child for a new schooling Environment?

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In the light of applications being given in and most parents having heard back from schools, parents of first-time school-goers will be thinking through preparing their children not only for school but the actual school environment.  This is especially difficult if there is a barrier to learning.  We therefore take this opportunity to share one of our past articles written by Angela Hutchison, a family counsellor.

There’s a big difference between being school-ready and being ready for school. School-readiness covers whether a child has the capabilities to work within the environment we choose for that child, which says little about the child’s inherent capabilities, and a lot about whether he can mould himself sufficiently enough to work within a chosen environment. This is not to say the environment is bad, but more adaptation happens from the child’s side than the environment’s But being ready for school, whether preprimary, junior or senior school, or even a new company later on, is much more about the anxieties that go with having to enter and adapt to a new environment. Pre-primary is a bit of an unknown and children either go happily, oblivious to what they will be facing, or struggle to separate, or maybe it’s the parents who struggle to separate.

But beyond that first point, children realise there are expectations of them; they realise people will make judgements about them; they are careful about the images they portray about themselves. They are constantly in a position where they balance fitting in, even blending in, with standing out and being unique.  How do parents prepare children for any environment they enter? Given we have no control over the entire experience. And how do teachers handle kids in the environment? Even if we choose that environment, it is impossible for it to meet our children’s needs 100%.
So how do we make sure our children cope inside it, without compromising who they fundamentally are?

The rules are simple. People can handle just about anything if a couple of key things are in place before they set out on a new journey. But we should start this sooner, rather than later.

  • Firstly, total acceptance for who the child is. Not who we think he should be or wish she was like. Just who the child is. And ideally from at least one adult in the world, preferably both parents and an outside person, but really, one adult person who sees the child for who he is. And provides that acceptance through empathy and acknowledgement and empowerment and not constantly wanting to provide solutions to the child or suggestions about being different to who she is in order to make the environment work. When Warren Buffet, the financial guru, was asked about the best advice he ever got, he turned the question round to say that his father had accepted him fully. And that was the key to his success. No self-doubt grown from seeds planted by others.
  • Support for his struggles. There is a very big difference between supporting a child through the pain and struggle of the school system and just finding solutions for the child constantly or defending the environment because it was chosen. Any environment is going to come with challenges. When a child feels supported through tough times, without the parent always stepping in to correct or change the situation or moan at someone, rather empowering the child to find solutions within the constraints, then the child can trust herself. Defending the environment sends a strong message to the child that she is wrong, when no environment is going to be a perfect fit. It’s okay to empathise, without attacking the environment either.  Just being accepting of the lack of fit in certain areas.
    There may come a time when the fit is just so bad, you make a change, and that is okay too. But hopefully not prematurely or without consideration.
  • Respect for her point of view. Listening to what children say and mean is an essential part of figuring out what is working and what isn’t. Often parents take issues personally, they push buttons within the parents and the child barely notices. Keeping a keen eye on where the child is actually at, is way more important than how the parent experiences the environment. 
  • Encouragement. People often think encouragement is about cheering from the sidelines without any content. Saying things like “you’ll be fine, there’s nothing to worry about” and other phrases that are said to make people feel better. The truth is that these statements make people feel worse. They completely disregard a child’s emotional landscape and basically may as well say – whatever you are feeling is wrong, you must just feel they way I say you should feel and then everything will be okay. Encouragement is about truly recognising the things a child does that make the child feel good and wonderful about himself. It is a greater skill. That requires more thought than batting away concerns with flippant statements.

If I were to summarise this, I would say it is better to spend time helping a child manage the environment he is in, working to the pros, managing the cons, understanding the benefits and the pitfalls, rather than blaming the child or the environment you have chosen for any issues that crop up.
– Angela Hutchison
Family Counsellor

IESA Article – December 2013

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