How to make yourself part of your child’s school life

From asking the right questions to stepping back and letting your little one take the reins, we discover how to make sure you’re a key part of your child’s education.

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“How was school today?” “Fine.”

“What did you do?” “Nothing.”

Does this sound like a familiar conversation in your home? If so, you’re not alone.

Most parents have a notoriously hard time trying to pry information from their kids about their school day.

For Dr Adrian Harrison, educational and child psychologist at kidsFIRST Medical Center in Abu Dhabi, it’s not all that surprising.

“At school, your child was probably asked questions all day long, so when they get in the car the last thing they want to do is answer more questions!” he says.

“As parents, we need to be mindful of when and how we ask questions. For example, asking a child a direct question once they have had a chance to relax is often more fruitful.

“Targeted questions like ‘What did you do during play time today?’, ‘Who did you speak to at recess?’ or ‘How is the history project going?’ are good options.”

This method can also help younger children remember specific events, rather than asking ‘What did you do?’, which is often too wide of a concept for small children to try to form a response to.

Of course, no approach is perfect and kids will often get information wrong or remain tight-lipped.

The important thing is not to pressurise your child to share any more than they comfortably can.

Dr Adrian adds, “Sometimes kids may feel more comfortable speaking to someone else and you should let your child know the type of people who it is okay to speak with: teachers, counsellors, family friends, therapists…

“As parents, be aware of the people who are confidants for your children. We need to be mindful that they are not confiding their thoughts and personal information to unfamiliar or anonymous people on the internet.

“Tuning into your child’s interests is also an important bonding tool. Like adults, children will talk more freely about things that they are interested in, so let them know that you’re interested in whatever they want to talk about.

“Another good way to connect with your child’s school day is to help them with their homework,” suggests Dr Adrian.

“Provide them with a suitable space in the home and protected time where distractions are reduced and they have your presence.”

For Genevieve Perreault, an elementary teacher in Abu Dhabi, this is important, but it’s crucial that you don’t end up doing most of your child’s homework for them: “Homework is designed to be an extension of the work done in the classroom and should be set at a level that children can complete themselves.

“Of course, children might need help with a question here or there, but for the most part, kids should be completing the work with parents on hand to check that they are doing it properly, and reassure them in their efforts.”

And what if, after the first few weeks of school, your little one is still having a hard time settling in or you’re constantly hearing about difficulties or problems?

Firstly, don’t worry. One of the simplest ways to support your child is by modelling the behaviour that you – and your child’s teachers – want to see.

Genevieve explains, “Reading habits, eating habits, work habits, manners, respect and kindness…. If you are reading together, cooking together, learning together, that rubs off on children and it impacts their love of learning as well as their confidence. ”

If you’re still struggling to resolve difficulties, Dr Adrian points to teachers as the first port of call.

“After speaking with the class teacher you may need to speak with the Special Educational Needs Coordinator, school counsellor or a senior member of staff for further help.

“If, for some reason, you’re uncomfortable starting a conversation with school staff then a consultation with a child psychologist is an alternative option.

“The psychologist will listen to your concerns and help you devise an action plan,” Dr Adrian adds.

“School or educational psychologists are experts at working with teachers on creating learning environments that bring out the best in children and young people.

“A psychologist may conduct an observation of the child in their class or playground, speak with the child’s teachers, run a group or provide one-to-one therapy sessions or conduct an assessment.

“Invariably the first step is for the psychologist to speak with the parents to get a full picture of the concerns and the factors that may be impacting on the child.”

For Dr Adrian, asking for help when you need it is a key part of making your child’s transition into a new school year successful: “Early intervention is best. Reach out and seek support at the beginning of any difficulty.

“Most schools have staff that are experienced in dealing with emotional challenges associated with starting a new school year. Ask for help and someone will lead you in the right direction.”

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