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10 tips for a stress-free return to school

August and September can be a challenging time for both parents and children as schools prepare to reopen and the summer break ends," says Dublin-based psychologist Ian Gargan.

"There may be a new school to navigate, and maybe a new classroom and a new teacher. While these are all signs of progress, this time of year can be difficult for children and especially teenagers settling back into a regular routine," says Ian, who runs Gargan Consulting, a healthcare and psychological consultancy service.

Ian is clinical director of Fresh Start, a provider of residential care and support for children and young people. He says: "After the fun and games of a long summer break, the prospect of getting back into the classroom may not be a joyous one for the children, nor a time to be relished by the parents," he says.

He believes that preparing children for the return to lessons and homework can make the summer-to-schoolroom transition a smoother one for all concerned. "The theme for this return to school should be reassurance, routine and reward," Ian says.

The psychologist's 10 tips for getting young children and teenagers alike ready for the approaching academic year, include focusing on the positive gains of learning, and implementing a reward system for lessons well learnt.

Preparation is vital for an easy return to school. Start early, maybe about three weeks before the children return to school, and set a schedule for yourself for purchasing school uniforms, books and other school paraphernalia. Bring school up in conversations so children begin to think about it again.

Sit down and make a list of the things that you and the children want to get for the new year in school. Often parents have one idea of what is necessary for going to school, and the children another. Seek a compromise.

Write a list of five things that you think the new school year will be good for, and five things that they also believe it will be good (or bad!) for. This can be about learning or friendship or extracurricular activities. This is a useful tool to promote conversation about what may be causing a child anxiety about returning to school.

Routine is essential for a successful academic year. It is important that the child or young person has a clear routine for the school term, including study, meal times and bedtimes. This holds true throughout the child's academic career. Starting the routine early before school returns may be useful -- such as implementing school bedtimes shortly before a child returns to school -- but can be quite challenging to do, too. Therefore, design a schedule which illustrates your point, including bedtimes, mealtimes, study times, and discuss it with the child, and be ready to kick off from day one.

For older children, a reward system is very useful. Sticking to a routine and getting praise from school for their achievements should result in a modest weekly reward and/or monthly reward, or as the achievements occur. Achievements can include adhering to the timetable or positive reports from the teachers or completing a difficult project on time etc.

For older children, sleep and diet are really important for their overall sense of wellbeing. Together you should choose nutritious meals, as well as lunches, for the week ahead which he or she enjoys.

Exercise is paramount for older students and younger ones alike. Research has shown that 20 minutes' walk around the block can be as good as therapy or a vitamin supplement. Get children and young people out there engaging in physical activities with their friends or as a family.

The academics of it all is having a plan and being ready to lend a hand for a given time every night or every week with a school subject your child may have difficulty with. Often children dread returning to school because of a lack of confidence in their ability to do well in certain subjects. This team approach will help them in taking on challenges, and give a sense of security.

Reassurance is vital. Consistently reassure your child that school is a positive aspect of their lives, and a great way to meet people, despite what they might think. In fact, engaging in some collective peer activities before returning to school may reinforce this point for any child reluctant to face another academic year. For example, buying school clothes and books with old school friends.

Create a calendar of the school year in picture form. This illustrates the fun activities that will occur during the year, and events to look forward to such as Christmas and Easter, and also highlights how brief the academic year actually is. Young children respond well to the visual appeal of the calendar, and the idea that there are lots of things to look forward to throughout the year.

Ian adds: "Reinforcement, reward and reassurance will make the return to school smoother. There are always going to be bumps in the road, but sticking to your ideas and approaching your child in an assertive and confident manner is important.

"All those ideas about helping young people get through exams at the end of the year have to start on day one. Encourage [them] to begin focusing on the main event from the beginning of the year."

More information is available on www.garganconsulting.ie.