Getting ready to go back to school
Don't underestimate the importance of starting the new term well, because those first couple of weeks will set the pace and approach to the term - and the year - ahead. If your teen's tired, unprepared and playing catch-up right from the off, it can be tougher to get back on track once term's started and the work's piling in.
Over the holidays, regular routines often slip. Teens will go to bed later, get up later, eat meals at less regular times and enjoy clothes, hair and make-up that are more expressive of their personalities. Then all too soon the holidays are over and it's back to school, with early starts, lots of new information to absorb, and expectations on behaviour. Here's our tips on how to help them get ready for the new school routine, instead of struggling to adapt once term has started.
To sleep ... perchance to dream
Sleep is probably the single most important factor in wellbeing. Lack of sleep makes us irritable, unable to concentrate, less likely to eat and drink the right things and more at risk of picking up illnesses. And sleep's one of the first thing that gets shifted during holidays.
It's fine for your teen to have later nights and later lie-ins during holiday time, but they will need to adjust this to make sure they're going to bed early enough to get the right amount of sleep for early mornings once school starts. If they need to be in bed by 10 pm to get up at 7 am, and they've regularly been going to bed at midnight and beyond, they are not going to be OK switching to a 10 pm bedtime the day before term starts. The body takes time to adjust. So make sure they start incrementally moving bedtime earlier for a couple of weeks before their first day back - closing the gap between when they should go to bed and when they are actually going to bed will help.
Don't forget, getting to sleep will be easier for them if they set up a bedtime routine. This could include switching the phone to silent, putting it away, taking a bath, dimming the lights, spending a little time listening to soft music, reading or journaling. Sticking to a similar routine every night signals to the body that it is time for bed and helps it switch off, so try to get your teen into the habit of doing the same things before bed each evening, which should also give them a cue to feel calmer.
Try to ensure they enjoy breakfast, lunch and dinner at similar times each day - especially if this has been more flexible during the holidays. Eating at regular times will help regulate their blood/sugar level so they aren't subjected to peaks and dips in energy levels. Don't forget, what they eat is important too - including their choices for snacks; try to make sure the fridge and cupboard contain lots of appealing, healthy choices.
Less easy to control is their time online, whether that's chatting on social media or watching boxsets. This almost always rises during holidays when they have more free time, so once school is back they need to adjust their consumption! A good idea is to chat to them about how much time they think would be fair, given their other commitments. You might be surprised what they suggest, and it could be easier to hold them to this further down the line if they underestimate how much time they actually spend online.
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How they look
Whether they're wearing uniform or not, there may be expectations on appearance at some schools and colleges. This could relate to clothes types (i.e. no shorts), hair cuts, jewellery, cosmetics etc. If there are guidelines, it's a good idea for your teen to have taken these into account and ensure they look appropriate from the first day of term. They shouldn't overlook making sure they have a wardrobe of clean clothes (including shoes and trainers) that fit them, and are suitable for the weather, to take them into the term ahead, as well as the right uniform if they're wearing one. Some schools offer pre-loved items at a much cheaper price if you can’t buy their uniform in mainstream shops.
Whether they’re at GCSE stage or sixth form, and despite so much being online, they’ll still need some old-fashioned stationery. They should already have quite a bit from last year, but a refresh is a good idea. It’s exciting beginning the new year with new notebooks and pens, so this could motivate them to feel more positive about heading back to school. That said, don't waste money on this! If they've already got lots of new notebooks they haven't used, buying more is unlikely to suddenly turn them into diligent note-takers.
They need to stay organized, so folders and files are essential. They'll receive lots of their subject matter in paper copy, so make sure they're ready to file it away and keep the right items together. Leaving loose sheets of papers all over the place will create muddle and their notes are more likely to get lost, which will make revision harder later.
Diaries and planners will also help them to keep track of where they should be and when, along with important dates for handing in assignments and taking exams. They might prefer to use online apps, which is fine, but a hardcopy diary could help them focus.
You may also want to check they have everything they need for any new subjects they’re starting – especially text books. In some cases they may need specialist equipment, such as for Maths, art or design.
A good pair of earbuds could also be useful. It will help them shut out distracting noise when they're trying to concentrate.
One thing that can be overlooked is ensuring they have a laptop stand, both for their desk at home and a foldable, portable one to use at school, so they're looking at the screen at eye level. Hunching over a laptop for hours will have a negative impact on their posture, which could have long-term consequences.
A fresh term signals a fresh start, and it's ideal if they can begin the new year feeling positive and in control. Setting a positive mindset can be helped by making sure their bedroom is tidy and organized. The end of the holidays is a great time for them to have a good sort out – cleaning their room, putting things away, throwing out things they don’t need any more and making sure they have an appropriate space to study. A wardrobe overhaul could also be timely – donating clothes that don’t fit or recycling those that have worn out, so that whenever they open their wardrobe it is uncluttered and filled with things they want to wear. Making their own decisions about what to keep and what to let go should help them feel in control and a clean, uncluttered space will help them feel mentally refreshed too.
Other ways you can help:
There’s plenty of tips about what you can do at home to help your teen with their studies, as well as creating lifelong healthy habits in: The Parents' Guide to Homelife and Study - GCSEs and The Parents' Guide to Homelife and Study - sixth form
We always love to hear from you, so do let us know if there are any subjects you’d like us to chat to you about. Stay safe and keep happy, Vanessa and Darius - firstname.lastname@example.org