Settling into the new term

It is nearly half-term as I write this, and when you read it, half-term will have happened. The summer days seem long gone, even with the glorious weather since then. It is the freedom of the summer holidays that many families love. No getting up early, no routines, no stress, more spontaneity. It can be a shock each year when children return to the school routine. Often, especially for children new to school or subject to a significant change of class members, it can take a whole term to settle in. Parents and children can find themselves yearning for those summer days.

Of course, it isn’t just the school routine. Often, children are protected from peer relationships during the summer holidays. They just have to manage their sibling relationships, or close neighbours. It can feel to some children like being thrown back into the den of social lions to re-join a class of children – will they be friendly? will that one who keeps looking at me meanly suddenly attack? how can I stay friendly with them? To some children it comes naturally but to others it can be a frightening, confusing minefield.

Social games can be good practice at home. Taking turn games, and games where you sometimes let yourself win. If your child tantrums, talk about how it might feel to lose. Empathise, then move on, so your child experiences you treating the subject as one that isn’t a huge problem. Games where your child has to look at you and listen to you, such as Simon Says, body signals to tell someone when and where to move etc. You can be creative.

But it can also be to do with self-esteem in the playground. Some children just start playing and others ask to play, inviting a negative response. Why is that? Children who don’t quite believe they will be let in to the group will often ask to be let in, half expecting a no. When they receive a no, it reinforces their belief that they are somehow on the outside. They might deal with this by behaving provocatively to others, or by withdrawing. You can help them to practice just joining in through role-play or discussion with you.

If the problem persists, talk to your child’s teachers and teaching assistants. They can keep a special eye out, and help to facilitate play. We all know how it can feel as adults to be on the outside of a group, to look in and wish to be part of a particular group. Often, it happens with time, but getting involved with a group can speed this up. You and your children’s teachers can help group activities along, inside and outside school. Arrange lots of play dates, group outings etc. If this is too much for your child, arrange to have one friend over, make it structured, and keep firm boundaries. This helps children to feel safe. If their own and other children’s ‘lion’ selves are held and not roaming free, they will feel safe to express other friendlier, more adventurous parts of themselves.

Dr Angela Evans

Child & Adolescent Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist

Member of the Association of Child Psychotherapists