The return to the classroom after the long break can, for some children, trigger a range of negative behaviours.
“This can be a very stressful time for both children and their parents while everyone is adapting to the routine of school again,” Taylar Ashlin, lead paediatric neuropsychologist at The Portland Hospital for Women and Children told The Huffington Post UK.
So how do you handle it if your child is playing up?
The Huffington Post UK spoke to psychologists specialising in child behaviour to get their advice on how parents can deal with this sometimes challenging time.
Why do some children act up when going back to school?
“Children generally respond to routine, structure, consistency and boundaries,” explained Ashlin.
“During school holiday time, routines and boundaries are usually relaxed. Therefore when it’s time to return to school, a) children find this hard and b) it drives behaviour difficulties like avoidance.”
Heading back to school means going back to scheduled dinner times, earlier bedtimes (that may have been lenient during summer) and alarms at the crack of dawn.
Geraldine Walford, a consultant in child and adolescent psychiatry for Dr Morton’s medical helpline, said tiredness from a slip in routine is the major factor contributing to changes in children’s behaviour.
“There would have been less structure in the day during the summer and as this continues, children often start to get tired and fractious,” she said.
“Tired children don’t concentrate as well, tend to be more irritable, lose their temper more easily and paradoxically become overactive.”
Clinical psychologist Linda Blair said this behaviour can sometimes run into the first several weeks of school.
“They’ll be more tired during the first week or so, because school is challenging. Academically and even more so socially,” she said.
“The hours imposed on them may not be a good match with their own natural diurnal variation, (how their moods and levels of alertness change during a 24-hour period). It can take a week or two to make the adjustment.”
What can parents do to manage their children’s behaviour?
1. Prepare at least a week in advance.
Start introducing the routine early, at least one week before school starts.
“Start making sure, without making a show of it, that mealtimes and bedtimes become regular and predictable - as close as is reasonable to the schedule you’ll need to be on once term starts,” Blair said.
“Adjusting everyone’s schedule ahead of time will make everything seem easier.”
2. Make sure they have a good sleep routine.
“Children who have not had adequate sleep are likely to be irritable, have poor concentration, and can even be teary,” said Ashlin.
“Following a long period of school holidays, children have generally been up later than usual and sleep in.
“Re-introduce a good sleep routine that allows your child eight to nine hours of quality sleep.”
Walford said if you don’t prepare your children for a change in sleep routine, it’s likely to cause problems.
“It’s not easy to get up 6.30am if for the last two weeks, they’ve being lying in until 11am,” she said. “So if you do try to suddenly get them up a few hours earlier, they’re likely to protest loudly, be very sleepy, argumentative and fall asleep again.”
“Children are likely to be irritable, have poor concentration and can even be teary.”
3. Validate how a child feels rather than telling them off.
“It is important to ensure your child’s emotional experience is validated and normalised,” Ashlin advised.
“Parents can do this while also challenging negative thinking that may be underlying challenging behaviours.
“For example, you could say: ‘Most children don’t want to go back to school but at least you will see your friends again and can tell them of all the fun things you did on holiday.’”
4. Give them motivators.
“Procrastination and avoidance behaviours can be managed by making a list of things to do that they can look forward to aside from school,” Ashlin said.
“For younger children, they tend to respond better to visual information such as a chart or poster.
“Parents can list the things their child can look forward to such as potential fun activities like a zoo visit on the weekend for example.”
5. Reduce their screen time.
It’s likely that the summer holidays involved increased time playing on computer games, watching TV and on laptops for kids.
“Too much screen time can make children more irritable, on edge and more likely to lose their temper,” explained Walford.
“This can make them really difficult when they’re told to come off their computer game or screen nearing the school term.”
6. Get up 15 minutes earlier.
“Once term does start, get everyone up 10 to 15 minutes earlier than you think is necessary to get to school on time,” said Blair.
“It’s so easy to fall behind in the morning, and if you rush to school, everyone will feel irritable and unfocused.
“Taking things gently, and knowing you have enough extra time to compensate when their are ‘hiccups’ in your schedule, will help you feel more calm.”