Starting school involves a big change for your child, and as such it is normal for children to experience strong feelings as they begin to think about and prepare for this change. Just like with other new experiences, the transition to school can bring a wide range of emotions. Your child may experience feelings of excitement at the prospect of going to school, nervousness about what lies ahead, or anger and sadness around the thought of leaving kindergarten and losing close relationships formed with teachers and peers. Understanding and helping your child label and respond to these feelings will not only help reduce their stress as they prepare for the transition, but also provide them with effective coping tools that will help support a positive start to school.
What Does Emotional Readiness Actually Mean?
When talking about emotional skills in preparation for school transition, we are looking at a child’s ability to recognise, label, understand and manage a wide range of emotions; self-regulate and cope when they have to do something that they do not want or when things do not go according to plan; and show resilience or the ability to ‘bounce back’ following challenges.
Self-regulation refers to a child’s ability to understand and manage their behaviour and reactions to feelings and the demands of various situations. A child with well developed self-regulation abilities should be able to:
- Limit highly emotional reactions to various situations, such as calming themselves down when frustrated or excited
- Adjust to changes in expectations or routine
- Focus on a task or shift focus to a new task
- Control impulses
Self-regulation is an important skill for starting school as it can impact a child’s ability to learn, socialise, be independent and cope with big feelings. Children that typically feel things strongly and intensely will generally find it more difficult to self-regulate than children who are more easygoing and will likely require additional support to develop these skills.
How Can You Support Emotional Readiness?
The best way to assist children in learning to self-regulate is to provide support when they need it. Some ways that you can do this include:
- Talking regularly about emotions with your child and normalising that it is okay to have these feelings
- Assist your child to regulate and encourage them to name the feeling and cause when they are experiencing a strong emotion
- Support your child to develop effective coping strategies, such as deep belly breathing or positive self talk, to manage strong emotions
- Provide specific praise to your child when they demonstrate appropriate self-regulation skills while managing tricky situations
- Model effective self-regulation to your child through providing an age-appropriate dialogue when you experience an emotion (i.e., I am feeling frustrated that I have so much work to do, I;m going to get a drink of water and take some deep breaths to feel calm before I start working on this again)
Above all, remember to be patient. It can be really hard for young children to cope when they are experiencing strong emotions and developing these skills takes lots of practice and praise.
Laura Moresi is a psychologist completing the Educational and Developmental registrar program. Laura is passionate about working collaboratively with families and other professionals to support children and adolescents to reach their best potential. Laura has experience working with a variety of development and mental health concerns.