Helping your child to pace themselves at school

By Phillip Heath AM, Head of Barker College

‘I’m already a bit tired, but I’m loving it. There are so much to do and so many things going on.’

This was the response from one of our new Year 7 students when I asked how things were going early in their first term at Barker College. It is not an isolated comment. At a parent information session for Year 7, several families offered a similar remark. I also heard similar things from Year 10 families at their equivalent session. Even a young man in Year 12 said the same thing to me.

School is a long-distance event, not a sprint

I encourage us all to ‘pace’ ourselves. It will take time to get up to speed. Patience is a virtue and, in education, also a strength.

While we are half-way through our first term, we are still settling into new routines, friendship groups, and systems. Don’t be too worried if students are taking time to get the hang of 2020. Depending on the year group, they are being asked to find their way around the school, to meet new teachers and learn new routines. It’s challenging at any age, but especially for children and young people. Inevitably, this makes the students tired, and tiredness can reduce our coping strategies at times. Some of them love the stimulus of new things in a new year. Others can become nervous and uncertain, even anxious until they find their new rhythm. This is absolutely normal.

Read the signs

There are few things about which to be watchful to tell if the students are pacing themselves. Let me offer you my thoughts that might help to ensure that students are thriving. They cannot sprint all the way to the HSC and Year 12 (unless they are in Year 12, which requires a different race tactic — more about that another time). Settling into a steady pace and routine is an important early objective.

Parents are the experts on their children, so use your knowledge of your child. Consider these six things:

  1. Check that their reaction to change is what you’d expect from them. You will know.
  2. Watch for anything abnormal, but don’t react too quickly. Watch for patterns over days and weeks, not hours.
  3. Be empathetic and optimistic about their capacity to manage. Changes and challenges are normal in life. Positive messages about their capacity gives strength to their capacity. Highlight the good things they have always been able to do.
  4. Avoid too many open-ended questions such as ‘what did you do at school today?’ These questions are often exhausting for young people because it requires them to interpret your meaning. Similarly, yes/no questions are often fruitless. Without interrogating them too much, be specific. For example, ‘how do they teach maths now?’ or ‘what’s it like to work with a device in class?’
  5. Assume they are making friends successfully. Avoid excessive questioning. Normalise things and get them into a conversation about what all members of the family did at lunchtime — include yourself in this.
  6. Listen carefully to their answers. Their words often carry enormous potency. But don’t react. They want to know you love them unconditionally and might say things to provoke a reaction. You’ll know the difference.

When to intervene

Intervene if or when you feel your child needs additional support.

For adults, planning is normal and expected. For a young person, planning means they are thinking about the weekend, or even closer. Don’t worry that this means they will be a responsible person as an adult. We are in this for the full race, not just the first laps.

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