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What to do if your child is having butterflies about starting a new school year.

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Each January I like to leave the purchase of new school shoes until the last minute.

Not only because it’s a fairly tricky task to get my children’s sandy feet into a sock and a leather lace-up shoe, but also because it’s a big red flag in their world. New school shoes = a new school year.

Cue all the questions and concerns.

‘My shoes hurt! Do I have to wear them?’

‘What if I get the cranky teacher?’

‘Will I be in the same class as my friends?’

And my favourite…

‘I’ve forgotten how to write!’

For kids, the new school year throws up a lot of unknowns. In their world, this uncertainty is uncomfortable. Kids crave stability, routine and familiarity. All this upheaval leads to what we call (in my house) ‘squirmy tummies’.

This is what I’ve discovered to be helpful to settle down their new school year butterflies in their tummies.

My kids are five and eight, so they're right at this stage. Image: Supplied.

Talk about it.

There’s no point pretending that the school holidays will go on forever. I like to give the children a weekly countdown so that they understand exactly when school will go back, and can mentally prepare for it.

I try to spend quality time with the kids one-on-one, when I can arrange care for the other one, so that they feel extra secure and confident to face the new year.

Bring back the sleep schedule.

We are pretty relaxed about bedtimes in the school holidays. In the weeks leading up to the new school year however, I try to get the children back into some semblance of a sleep schedule.

They’re normally pretty tired from all the swimming and park visits, so this doesn’t tend to be too difficult.

Blackout curtains help reduce the questions around why they have to go to bed when the sun is still up.

Plan after-school fun.

It’s a good idea to give them something to look forward to about the new school year.

I like to let the kids know in advance about the fun activities we will be doing after school. Like swimming at the pool. Play dates. Even grocery shopping.

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At the same time, I try not to over-schedule them with activities every day. They need time to chill out too.

Keep an eye out for changes.

Change of routine after school holidays can be a bit of a shock to the system - you're eating, sleeping and playing at different times.

In some children, this presents in symptoms like constipation, which is never much fun for anyone. Many young children may put off going to the toilet because they're busy playing or because they've had a painful experience going to the toilet at this time of year. It can also be triggered by having to use new school toilets, or being told to hold on when they feel the urge to go.

For both of my kids, 'squirmy tummies' often happen around this time. As my kids are older now I’m less involved (hooray!) in their toileting activities. But if I’m concerned that their nerves are getting the better of them, I ask a few questions.

It completely grosses them out, but at the same time they do love a good poop chat (or farts, or anything to do with bottoms really). If they say that they haven’t had much movement lately in the number two department, I know it's time to do some research, or if I'm really worried, talk to my doctor.

Now, I know normal bowel habits vary from child to child. But constipation isn't just about movement - it's about how hard the stools are, and the difficulty of passing them.

One helpful option is Little Parachoc, a gentle stool softener designed especially to treat constipation in kids.* It comes in a chocolate vanilla flavour that can be mixed with some cold milk or yoghurt for a quick treatment.

The flavour is mild so they won’t run and hide like they do when I pull out other medicines that they don't like.

Set some goals for the year.

Every year we get a big whiteboard out and set family goals for the year.

Each child and adult comes up with two or three activities or achievements that they want to tick off the list for the year. For the kids it might be:

  • Riding a bike without training wheels
  • Hitting level 15 on their home reader
  • Learning their 7 times tables
  • Starting guitar lessons
  • Learning to dive

Being able to tick things off the list is so motivating for the kids, and gives them a sense of achievement. At the end of the year we can look back and say ‘wow, look at all the things we have done this year!’ and honestly, it feels great.

Demystify the 'new' and make it fun.

For my five and eight year olds, there is nothing like going shopping for a new lunchbox to lift their spirits.

Little things (like a new drink bottle) matter to small people, so we try to make the shopping for school supplies as much fun as possible.

We also talk about ideas for the types of food they would like to take in their lunchbox, so that I can add it to the grocery list.

Now to just wrangle the children into the shoe shop. I find a double scoop ice cream afterwards helps ease the pain.

What do you find works best if your child has butterflies about the new school year?

*Always read the label. Follow the directions for use. If symptoms persist, talk to your health professional.

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