How kids adapt to starting school

Your baby's all grown up and starting kindergarten. You're proud, but you also notice that they have started developing some unsettling behaviours. Keep reading to learn more about how kids adjust to school and peer influences!

Starting school: A big step

When our child starts school, we're already dealing with a tornado of emotions: excited to see our child begin a new stage, concerned about not having our eyes and ears everywhere, at all times, and a little anxious to know if he or she is going to adapt well to school, classes, new rules and new friends.

Once school has started and the routine is established, those worries are replaced with the realization that your little one is changing: and not just for the better! Besides all the learning that goes on in school, there also comes along the new influences of friends who come from families with different value systems than ours, the presence of older kids that impress the younger ones and most importantly, a kind of mini-society that establishes itself with each kid playing a vital role in this group dynamic.

Because of this natural dynamic, your child may suddenly start to display behaviours they already know are not accepted, start using language that will make your toes curl and try to assert themselves in a rather awkward (but cute!) manner. Even the child who was always nicknamed the little angel will start coming home with notes from the teacher to notify you of an incident at school. We spoke with Stephanie Deslauriers, psychoeducator, on how to manage those new challenges while respecting the independence of our children.

The child who bites or scratches

Most kids who start kindergarten already know that it's not okay to bite, scratch or be aggressive with their peers. Therefore, it's normal for you to feel a bit helpless once you realize your child has started to show this aggressive behavior again and to think that everything has to be retaught and relearned.  Ms. Deslauriers reassures us by explaining that a child who begins to have negative behaviors considered aggressive is not always doing it because they are exhibiting aggression or anger but sometimes they do it to try to belong to a group or simply to imitate others so they can be accepted and included in that group.

But what can we do as parents to make our kids understand that this behavior is unacceptable and that they must respect the rules we set at home as well as the rules set at the school, all while respecting their need to belong? According to Ms. Deslauriers, it's important to empower our children and make them aware of the fact that they always have a choice: « You can ask him questions so he can experience a positive mental exercise. You can also teach him ways to make sure his choice is respected by his peers. »

Vocabulary and personality changes

Children are supposed to go to school to enrich their vocabulary and have experiences that form their personality, but as you can see, it's not always for the better! When my oldest started kindergarten, in a week, she had replaced mom with « dude » and started playing pre-teen by rolling her eyes at me and throwing with disdain « you're not cool, mom ». Tough for the ego of a mom who used to hold the most important role in the lives of her children to realize that she is becoming a little less popular now that our kids are faced with new models like teachers, friends, and classmates.

It may seem irritating to not be in control of the vocabulary of your child, but Ms. Deslauriers advises you to practice letting go and to choose your battles: « If the parents intervene on the cool language, parents may feel exhausted to always be reprimanding their child and the child may feel undermined in the long term because he will feel like he can't do anything right. It's better to focus on curses and bad words or insults. It's entirely appropriate for the parent to set limits while respecting the reality of this generation. »

How to handle bad influences

Even if we wish we could hide our children away in a bubble to protect them from bad influences, we all know that's impossible! Are we then powerless to external influences? Not at all says Ms. Deslauriers: « The children that act inappropriately do so because they perceive they are getting a benefit from it. It's important for parents to teach their kids how to trust their instincts and to assert themselves. On the other hand, parents should show their kids what the negative consequences of their behavior are and propose compensatory and more productive behaviors so they can learn to navigate the world of social skills. »

As she said it best, the most important thing is to have confidence in our child and let them make their own decisions while being present to guide them, because if we make all the decisions for them, they will not learn to follow their instincts. In the example of a friend who is a negative influence, Ms. Deslauriers advises avoiding preventing your child to hang out with that friend, as that will tend to encourage your child to hide things from you and lie to you. In addition, remember that kids who are bad influences are often that way because they have serious issues going on at home and the last thing they need is to be ostracized which would feed their hostile behavior.

We also invite you to read our article Managing your child's friends for more tips and strategies on how to help your kids navigate their interpersonal relationships.

What's important to remember is that it's normal to worry about bad habits our kids bring home but that you shouldn't forget that they can also be positively influenced by their new environment. If you stay consistent in your actions towards your children and encourage them to understand and follow the rules of your home and family, and to have that same behavior in school, they will benefit from both establishments and learn a lot from all the new experiences that will inevitably teach them life lessons and form their character!

Image de Mariem Melainine

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