Is my child emotionally ready for school?

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.

Routines – do we have to?

As adults, some of us are real ‘creatures of habit’ and thrive on routine (I count myself amongst this group!). Others are more content to ‘go with the flow’ and if that works for you, great. What we do know however when it comes to children is that keeping a regular routine as a family for daily activities (e.g. morning routine, bedtime routine, family games night etc.) is greatly beneficial. These benefits include:

  • Helping your child to become more independent in their daily living skills 
  • Your child learns an important life lesson that we must balance work and play
  • Reducing any stress or anxiety your child might be experiencing 
  • Your child is more likely to comply with your instructions and knows your expectations 
  • Your child feels safe and secure 
  • Your child will likely sleep and eat better, which will improve their mood and behaviour 
  • Providing stability at times of transition, such as parental separation, starting kindergarten or school, death of a family member, birth of a sibling or puberty
  • Encouraging bonding time as a family 

Of course, it also important to have some unstructured ‘down time’ in your child’s life in which they can rest or be creative. It is important to not be overly rigid in your routine (e.g. it may change for special occasions) as this helps your child be flexible. 

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

Is my 4-year-old’s play typical for their age?

As children commence 4-year-old kindergarten, their ability to engage with peers develops further. They begin to engage in ‘cooperative play’ in which they share mutual goals in the play and are assigned certain roles.

Children at this stage are interested not only in the play activity, but also in the children they are playing with. Play themes start to extend beyond their own experience (e.g. an astronaut going to outer space) and are more imaginative in nature. They might begin to take on role-play games, such as playing ‘doctor’ or ‘mums and dads’. Children of this age are also able to play some games with simple rules, such as hide-and-seek. 

If you have concerns about your child’s play skills, a good source of advice is their kindergarten teacher, who understands the typical development of children their age. Alternatively, your Maternal Child and Health Nurse or GP can assist and of course, the team at CCD are always able to help!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success.

How can I tell if my 3-year-old’s play is age-appropriate?

Around the age of 3 years, children begin to engage in what is called ‘parallel play’. This can sometimes look like they are in fact playing with another child, but if you look closely, they are often in close physical proximity but engaging in their own separate play. They may, however, mimic what the other child is doing without interacting with them.

As children get close to 4 years old, they begin to shift to what is deemed ‘associative play’. This play is not particularly organised or coordinated, but children begin to interact in their play. This is also the age that children begin to exhibit preferences for particular play partners, and begin to use symbols in their play (e.g. pretending that a stick is a sword). 

If you have any concerns about your child’s play skills, a good starting point is your Maternal Child and Health Nurse or GP. If further support is required, the team at the Centre for Child Development is also here to help!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success.

What should my 2-year-old’s play look like?

The best way to describe typical 2-year-old play is that they are an onlooker or a spectator. Children at this age are interested in what other children are doing, often watching them and perhaps talking about what they are doing. They do not yet, however, engage in play with another child. Most 2-year-olds also do not understand how to share or take turns.

Children at this age can begin to imitate pretend play actions (e.g. giving a teddy bear a cup of tea) and start treating toys as though they were animate beings (i.e. a doll is treated as though it were a real baby). Children learn best when they lead play, so let them sometimes forge ahead and follow them to see where the play goes!

If you have any concerns about your child’s play skills, a good starting point is your Maternal Child and Health Nurse or GP. If further support is required, the team at the Centre for Child Development is also here to help!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success.

What does play look like in a 1-year-old child?

It is typical for a 1-year-old’s play to be solitary in nature. They often seek to explore objects and learn about their world through cause-and-effect manipulation of these objects (e.g. I fill up my bucket with sand- now it is heavy! I made a big stack of blocks and they fell!).

1-year-olds are generally highly focussed on what they are doing, and in a setting such as a playgroup are not aware of or interested in what other children are doing. It is important to note, however, that when a caregiver approaches a child to join their play, a 1-year-old would usually make eye contact, smile and laugh at appropriate moments during their interaction together. 

If you have any concerns about your child’s responsiveness or have noticed a lack of interest in other people or objects, a good starting point is your Maternal Child and Health Nurse or GP. If further support is required, the team at the Centre for Child Development is also here to help!

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success.

Help! My child hates haircuts….

Haircuts in children tend to be driven by necessity and practicality (hello lockdown locks!) rather than personal expression. When the time for a haircut does roll around it can be a great source of stress for all involved. Children who are overly sensitive to sound or touch can find haircuts very unpleasant. For these children, sensations such as hair falling on their face, the sound of clippers, and the plasticky cape, are magnified and can cause distress. Other children may dislike haircuts due to bad past experiences, concerns about their appearance, or worries about social interactions. 

Although you may be tempted to ‘cancel’ haircuts all together, the best way to help your child get used to them is through graded exposure. This means gradually exposing your child to the feared situation (or object) in small steps. To sweeten the deal, reward your child for doing each step. Most kids love getting extra 1:1 time with parents, or the chance to request their favourite meal. Just make sure they can remain calm at each step before moving onto the next.

To keep the plan clear, create a poster or visual with the goal, each step, and the accompanying rewards. Your child may even want to help decorate it! Initially the goal might be for the child to sit in the hairdresser’s chair for two minutes. Once this has been achieved, you might then progress to the actual haircut.

Some other strategies to try are:

  • Using social stories
  • Taking a transition/comfort object
  • Scheduling the appointment with the same person each time
  • Booking appointments during quiet times
  • Keeping the child’s haircut simple and consistent
  • Having the child’s hair cut at home

Yvette Zevon is a psychologist based at The Northern Centre for Child Development, who is completing the registrar program in educational and developmental psychology. She is passionate about working with young people and families and is grateful for the daily opportunities to express her playful side.

How do I know if my spirited child is school-ready?

The transition to school from 4-year-old kindergarten is a big one. Starting school brings some new challenges in terms of greater expectations and independence. Fortunately, most children look forward to starting school and often thrive in this new learning environment. 

Parents of ‘spirited children’- that is, kids who experience intense emotions, are incredibly persistent (or stubborn!) and full of energy- can worry about how their child will fare when they start school. If your child is already engaging in some form of therapy (be this speech therapy, occupational therapy, or psychology) or has received a diagnosis of a developmental difference, many of the goals you are already working on will help prepare your child for school. There are however some general tips to help prepare your child for school. Do not forget that their 4-year-old kindergarten teacher has also been working hard (where possible this year!) on preparing them for school and can support you with this transition. 

School readiness is a broad term that includes several factors. Children benefit from having good social skills (such as getting along with other children and be able to assert themselves); emotional maturity (are able to manage their emotions appropriately and can follow directions from adults); language skills (can listen to others and express themselves clearly); motor skills (such as the ability to hold a pencil) and independence skills (such as managing their lunchbox, toileting etc.). Identifying which of these areas your child is likely to have more challenges with can be helpful so you can practice these skills at home. For example, you may engage in more craft activities at home, play games that involve turn taking, help them label their emotions and practice putting on their uniform or opening their lunchbox containers. Whilst kinder has been disrupted this year due to COVID-19, your child’s teachers can help guide you with activities or games to help practise and develop these skills in the home environment.

Beyond these individual areas, it can often be helpful to enrol your ‘spirited child’ into an activity that helps them to channel their endless energy in a productive way, such as swimming or martial arts. Whilst this may not be possible right now, some activities may open up in the coming months or may be able to be accessed online.

Such children will likely benefit from frequent movement breaks at school, which their teacher can facilitate by giving them special jobs (such as handing out pencils to the rest of the class). Your child might need some help in developing strategies to help them cope with tricky situations- like how they can keep themselves occupied when they must wait for something. All children benefit from having a clear routine and being given warnings of impending transitions at home and school. It also goes without saying that your child’s sleep and eating will also have a big impact on their ability to concentrate and engage in learning. 

If you have concerns about your child’s readiness for school, there is support available, including the psychologists at CCD. Some clinics also run ‘school readiness’ groups (many of which are being run online) which can be a good practice opportunity prior to commencing school.  Your intended school will also run transition sessions and can provide additional support if you anticipate that your child would benefit from this. And finally, do not stress- with the proper supports in place your ‘spirited child’ will likely thrive when they start school.

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.

One question we need to ask every parent this week…..

Parents. We hear you. We are listening. We know how incredibly tough this year has been. Isolation from friends and family, kids at home 24/7 needing entertainment, food (my goodness the amount of food!), attempts to retain jobs, find new jobs, fear of ditching existing jobs that we hate because we’re scared we won’t find another one right now. REMOTE LEARNING.   And as for “it takes a village to raise a child”…..well, what village?! We can’t even see our families for a cuppa let alone get any respite or babysitting support! 

So if there’s one question we need to ask each other this week it is “R U OK????” 

And not just because some organisation decided that September 10th is good for R U OK Day to promote mental wellbeing….but because frankly, we REALLY need to check in on each other right now. 

We are all hearing words like “we’re all in this together!” but, how can we actually put these words into action? 

Credit: www.ruok.org.au

The R U OK campaign is all about reaching out to someone that you think may be doing it tough and just following these four simple steps:

  1. Ask R U OK?
  2. Listen (without judgement)
  3. Encourage action – this means not just self-care strategies, but referring them on for professional support if you are really worried about them
  4. Check in – this means a few days later follow up and see how they are feeling now. Did they take the action they said they would? Do they need further support? Is it time now to suggest professional help? 

For many people, the knowledge that someone is thinking of them is enough. For others, it takes someone asking the question for them to actually open up and talk honestly about their struggles. And for others again, the question may be the difference between serious harm or safety. 

So let’s all give it a go – because that’s what “we’re all in this together” really means. 

For more resources, check out www.ruok.org.au and look after each other, and yourselves. 

Madeline Sibbing is the Principal Psychologist at the Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development. Madeline holds a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology from Monash University. Her sixteen years of professional experience has been attained within government and independent schools in assessment, therapeutic interventions and consultation with children, adolescents, parents and teachers. She also developed primary prevention programs, mental health awareness activities and teacher training in a secondary college. Madeline spent several years working as an Educational Psychologist in London, UK, as a Chartered member of the British Psychological Society. She is a registered supervisor with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, supervising Masters of Psychology candidates and newly-registered Psychologists.

Consistently described as an engaging, down-to-earth and knowledgeable therapist, Madeline obtains enormous joy from working with children and young people… as often evidenced by the sounds of laughter and silliness emanating from her therapy room.

How to help kids cope with change

Change can be exciting and scary all at once. Whilst we know that children benefit from consistency, life throws a lot of changes our way- some we might foresee and others we may not (like the entire COVID pandemic!). Learning how to cope with change is a valuable life skill that will help your child become more resilient for what lies ahead for them in adult life. So how do we do this? 

  • When possible, give your child a warning about the impending change ahead of time. This might take the form of multiple conversations, such as about the arrival of a younger sibling or starting school. 
  • Try to keep other factors in your child’s life as consistent as you can. For example, if yourself and an ex-partner are separating, try to keep other factors such as their childcare centre/kindergarten/school the same, and maintain other routines as much as possible. 
  • Listen to your child and be willing to answer their questions. They may be repetitive- this is part of your child making sense of it all. 
  • Acknowledge and validate your child’s emotions. 
  • Do expect some regression in other areas, such as toileting or behaviour. This is completely normal and will not last forever. 
  • When possible, spend extra one-on-one time with your child in which you are fully engaged with them and following their lead. 
  • Give your child choices that achieve the same desired outcome. For example, you could ask your child whether they want cereal or toast- either way, the same desired outcome is achieved within defined parameters (breakfast being eaten). Giving children choices enhances their sense of autonomy and can reduce the feeling of everything in their lives being out of their control. 
  • Read books to your child about children going through similar experiences. You would be amazed what is out there (I have quite the collection myself!) 
  • Maintain your usual expectations and limits in other areas. Your child may push against these, hence maintaining them will reassure them that they are secure and safe. 
  • Reflect on other changes your child has become used to in the past and discuss this with them.
  • Remember that it will take some time for your child to adjust, and that is okay. 
  • Do seek professional help if you need it- that is what we are here for! 

Olivia Smith is an endorsed Educational and Developmental Psychologist and is a strong believer in the importance of working collaboratively with families and other professionals to ensure a holistic approach to child wellbeing. She is passionate about advocating for and working with children presenting with anxiety and/or neurodiversity (e.g. ASD, ADHD and specific learning disorders) and their families. Olivia strives to make therapy sessions engaging, effective and applicable to everyday life, and views the relationship between child and therapist as key to success. She is also a certified SOS-feeding therapist.