WITH their crisp white shirts, shiny shoes and freshly scrubbed faces, sending your child to school is one of the proudest moments for any parent.
But what you may not see captured in the obligatory picture of your child taking the first steps into primary school or making the leap to secondary, is the stress bubbling under the surface.
According to the experts, preparing children for school goes beyond buying a new school bag.
School-based stress is said to be on the rise with a recent survey by ParentLine Scotland reporting that pupils are self-harming as a result of problems in the classroom.
Edinburgh expert Professor Ewan Gillon has 13 years of experience in the field, working as a counselling psychologist, often with children.
The 43-year-old former James Gillespie pupil is clinical director of psychology and counselling centre First Psychology, which opened in 2006.
The company now has five centres around the country, one of which is in the Newington area.
And over the years, Professor Gillon and his team have helped children with stress management.
Dad-of-one Professor Gillon says: “It can be difficult for parents towards the end of the school holidays.
“Everyone can be fed up, and patience can be wearing thin.
“But stress for children is very different than it is for adults.
“They don’t just feel it, they behave it.”
So if you’re the parent of a school-bound child, then Professor Gillon has this advice.
TALK ABOUT SCHOOL
Professor Gillon advises parents to share their own school memories with their children.
He says: “Parents should talk about times when they were at school and situations where they were stressed as this can help with understanding.”
Parents of those going to school for the first time can just think about how exciting it is.
But Professor Gillon warns children can find it overwhelming and stressful.
“Stress is going to be there so don’t pretend that it isn’t.
“But you can give reassurance it is going to be fine.
“For children going to school for the first time, parents ought to try and appreciate how difficult it’s going to be because it might not be straightforward.”
IS YOUR CHILD COPING?
Look out for clues that your child is coping.
He says: “Any signs of bad behaviour points to them not coping.
“Shouting, having tantrums, and not communicating are all examples of this.”
INTRODUCE THE SCHOOL ROUTINE EARLY
In the lead-up to school, it’s time to get children prepared and into the right mind set.
“Start introducing the school routine a week before it actually starts and don’t leave it all until the Monday school starts back.
“Children want structure and control so having a routine is vital.”
Professor Gillon advises using tools to discuss any problems with youngsters.
He says, “Younger children won’t always talk to their parents but you can try using your child’s toys.
“So if their favourite toy is an Action Man for instance, you could play with them and pretend one of the figures is getting a hard time from the other one.
“Then you ask if this is happening to the child.
“It might help them act out a role and it may give parents clues.
“This can work from age three up to nine because around these ages children can have difficulty expressing themselves.”
DON’T PUSH IT
Moving up to secondary school can be another flashpoint for stress and Professor Gillon highlights possible worries about exams and academic work.
“Emotional support is important, and offering your child an understanding ear will allow them to feel confident in talking to you about their worries, seeking advice from you when need be.
“Try not to become over anxious or push them too hard.
“But ensure you play an important role as a parent by reminding them that school work has an important place too.”
SPACE TO STUDY
Having a dedicated work space in the home can help productivity.
Professor Gillon says, “Make sure that there is a work space and dedicated time available in your household for your child to undertake the study they may need to.
“There is often an unconscious message that we send out about how we value their academic work in how we create our environment.
“And having a dedicated space and quiet time really demonstrates to them what they are doing is important, which helps them buy into the process.”
FIND OUT ABOUT SCHOOL
Parents can also help by getting to know the school and build relationships with the school.
“For children moving from primary school to secondary school parents can help by finding out how the world of school works.
“And being understanding of the pressures faced by schools in managing a whole range of pupils is important, and working collaboratively with them rather than against them in times of difficulty is vital.
“Sometimes the most important thing is simply picking up the phone and making an appointment to speak to his or her teacher, to work out together how best to progress and support the child fulfil their potential.
“But do this with your child’s knowledge and ideally permission.”
Continuing the theme, it pays to get to know the people who are responsible for your child’s education.
Professor Gillon advises: “Parents should try to develop a positive relationship with the school, the teachers and support staff wherever possible.”
TACKLE WARNING SIGNS
We all have unproductive days.
And when it occasionally happens that’s fine. But a pattern of continually refusing to undertake schoolwork may point to stress.
Professor Gillon says: “Address this with them before it is too late, but in a supportive and understanding way.
“Seek help from the school in doing so if needs be.
“Also be mindful of the child becoming too introverted and low, either before, during or after the return to school.
“This is a warning sign that something may not be going well, and it is important to tackle it before it builds into a big problem.
“It’s so often the case that difficult or disruptive behaviour is masking emotional upset or worries.
“Don’t forget this and simply see the misdemeanour.”