September 18th, 2017

School success –how does age and temperament influence it?

Has your child just started school? Some kids will be sailing in and making a beeline for the ‘creative corner’ or heading off to play with other kids without a backward glance, while others will be hanging back tentatively or even having to be extricated, crying, from their parent’s leg. I hope the latter isn’t you but if it is you may be asking why can’t my child be in the first category, or even the second? Of course the answer is, to some extent, temperament, but the other factor that may have a bearing is age. If your child has a summer birthday they will of course be one of the youngest in the year and therefore less mature physically, socially and emotionally.

All my own children were born in the summer, Gemma having the latest birthday, in August. But after a briefly tearful start she got on the best while her May and June born brothers struggled more and their immaturity showed up more clearly. So what are the factors at play here? From my example you might conclude it was gender but as usual it is the convergence of many things. Gemma was, and is, an extrovert who is socially adept. She was also academically able. Her brothers are introverts and both dyslexic so found life in the classroom harder. Environment makes a great deal of difference as you’d expect. Christian’s struggles in the classroom and his avoidance strategies were mistaken for misbehaviour and he got in trouble a lot thus reducing his self-esteem and causing more poor behaviour. Whereas Sam’s difficulties were recognised and he got the help he needed. It doesn’t help if your young child is actually tall for their age, as mine were, as adults’ expectations are often pitched too high.

Research has shown that kids who are young in their year do less well academically and are less confident than their older peers. And the impact of month of birth persists into higher education 

Children who are less physically mature can also have a disadvantage in sport and may get disheartened while playing against their more coordinated, stronger peers. They will need encouragement to keep trying.

That is the lottery of the educational system as it is currently but since we know our younger kids are going to find it harder we can be prepared for that and help them.

  1. One of the things we need to be particularly aware of is their need for sleep. If your child started school last week he may be doing half days at the moment because the school recognises that they will be very tired. You may also have seen some fallout at home as a result of tiredness, some ratty or regressive behaviours. We can be compassionate towards our littlies while still guiding their behaviour and being clear about our values. They hate to be told they are tired (especially when they’re dropping) so be sure not to make early bedtimes sound like punishments for poor behaviour. Just be clear that while they are getting used to school it will take a lot of energy and they need sleep so they can be alert and enjoy school. Sleep is sacrosanct in the first few weeks, at the very least.
  2. We can also make sure that their energies are focused on settling in to school and reduce other stresses in their lives. Try to make sure there aren’t too many other activities going on. Keep playdates for the weekends and don’t start too many extra-curricular activities until they are well settled. Make sure that they are getting plenty of time when they can play, run around and burn off steam and just to chill.
  3. Keep family routines as consistent as possible. Put on hold any ideas about moving house or any other big changes like going back to work wherever you can.

And what about temperament?

If you have a child who is intense, sensitive, reactive, persistent, slow to adapt, high energy and can be a bit negative in outlook he is going to need a lot of support to manage school. If he is also an introvert he will need quiet time to restore his energies. Our temperaments are our default position for how we react to the world but they are not cast in stone. Parents can help children to appreciate their temperaments and learn to manage them. So for example, when your child says she wants cake at bedtime and she’s already brushed her teeth, you can say “You really, really want that cake don’t you? When you want something you’d like to keep going and going until you get it. That’s called persistence and that can be a wonderful quality. For instance if you wanted to get good at playing netball (insert whatever activity she’s keen on here) you’d practice and practice your ball skills until you mastered them. It’s really annoying for you that mummy has said you can’t have the cake. It’s my job to look after you and make sure that you stay healthy so sometimes I have to say you can’t eat something you’d like to or that you need to go to bed or to put a jumper on when it’s cold…. Do you remember we talked about how your brain works? This bit at the front tells you what’s sensible to do. But the bit in the middle tells you what you’d like to do. So your middle brain is yelling cake, cake, cake (ham it up here) and your front brain can hardly be heard saying ‘do what mummy says’. As you get older your front brain’s voice will get stronger and mummy and daddy will help you to listen to it…..This morning my middle brain was saying just ten minutes more sleep but my sensible front brain told me I needed to get up or we wouldn’t get to school and work on time.”

At four years old all children have immature ‘front brains’, that’s their pre-frontal cortex which regulates the emotions and impulses originating in the ‘middle brain’ or limbic system, and it really helps them to understand a little bit of how their brain works. It also helps us to stay calm when we realise that a poor behaviour is likely the result of an impulse or a feeling, not as a result of a character flaw. And when we stay calm our children do too. Less stress in their lives makes it more likely that they can handle school well.

Good luck with the next few weeks and we wish your child a very happy school life. Look out for our workshop on Raising Boys on October 3rd  Raising Girls on October 31st.


Posted in: Independent Schools , Schooling , Temperament




August 29th, 2014

Starting School

The new school year is not far away..... and the key to a successful start to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!

Familiarise your child with their new school. Visit or look at pictures of the new school often. Hopefully you will have had a visit where your child could see the parts that will affect him - his classroom, the toilets, the dining hall, the assembly hall, the playground.

  • Reading books about starting school is a good way to teach your child about the reality of school life. Try the following books:
  • Uniform - Get any uniform well in advance and try it on. Practice getting in and out of it and go through the morning routines eg would you prefer that uniform goes on after breakfast to minimise the chance of spills? Should your child get dressed in the kitchen to avoid the distractions of a bedroom? Should hair brushes and toothbrushes be downstairs to make for a quicker getaway? All these things need thinking through.
  • Practice
    • If they’re starting school for the first time explain unfamiliar things like bells and what they signify.
    • Play schools –sit on the mat to get them used to ‘circle time’, call the register and practice saying hello, practice making eye contact, asking questions and putting hands up, asking to go to the toilet. Let them be the teacher and you the student and explore through play what behaviour is required in school.
    • If they’re not yet independent in going to the toilet on their own, it’s a good time to practice wiping bottoms, flushing and washing hands.
  • Friends –are a very important part of school
    • If you know of anyone else starting at your child’s school try to make contact before the term begins so there is a familiar face when they go. The school may put you in touch with people in your neighbourhood.
    • If your child is a bit shy it will be worth practising some opening lines for making conversation with other children. Remind them that the other children will all be new too.
  • Chat through what school will be like (in a positive way) –
    • Tell them that you will be there every day at the end of the day to talk about things and look forward to hearing about what they did. But don’t pump them for information –kids are often tired at the end of the day and they live in the moment so often don’t share much about what happened earlier.
    • Explain that if they are worried about anything, they can always go and speak to the teacher and that you and the teacher are working together to make sure that things go well for them at school.
    • Maybe talk about your experiences of being a child at school (positive ones). Mention friends, the activities you liked best, the games you played, the teachers you remember fondly. Maybe find a photo of you when you were at school.


Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do.


If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life.


For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this puzzle. It’s complicated but you kept going until you finished it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.”


Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling.


When we acknowledge negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately. When we accept feelings we encourage our children to talk.


For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new things you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.”


Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling.


Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety.


Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school.


Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Sometimes it’s not till the excitement of the new activity wears off that your child experiences some doubt.


Talk about common concerns around starting a new school:

    • Will the teacher like me?
    • Will the other children like me?
    • Will I be able to do what’s asked of me?
    • How will I know what to do?
    • What if I get lost?
    • What if I need to go to the loo?
    • I don’t like the look of the toilets.
    • I don’t like the food at lunchtime.
    • It is too noisy and confusing at lunchtime/sports or I don’t have anyone to play with.
    • How will I remember where to put my things?


For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be feeling both excited and a bit nervous about starting school. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.”


And lastly!


First, remember how tiring school is in the beginning.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness - because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down.


And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, this is reflected in our children.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.


What are your memories of starting school –either yourself or your older children? My eldest had settled into nursery so easily I wasn’t prepared for the upset when she started ‘big school’. I often went on to work upset after dropping her off.

If you’ve found these ideas helpful please share them on your favourite forum/social media platform and sign up for our regular newsletter (click here)–full of parenting news, information and ideas.


Happy parenting,


Melissa and Elaine

Posted in: Handling emotions , Parenting Tips, Tools and Techniques , Schooling , Secondary School





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