Navigating parenting today is a veritable minefield of potential foot-in-mouth moments and ‘mental loads’.
For example, did you know that kids under a certain age are encouraged to wear a high vis vest from the Road Safety Authority when the nights start drawing in? Packed lunches can mostly comprise of julienned veg and extra curricular activities are considered mandatory. It’s a wonder any of us survived the 80s, being flung around the back of Hi-Ace vans sans seatbelts?
While some of us are seasoned Back to Schoolers, this time of year is new to others. With that in mind, I hosted a Q&A session with some fellow parents regarding questions they regularly face when preparing the kids for the big return.
If you’re a first time parent ushering in the first week of potentially 18 years of education for your little one, or indeed a seasoned professional, here are just a few tips to add to your arsenal.
Q: How can I prepare my child for a new school?
A: This time of year can be stressful for parents but obviously more so for kids. They are sponges, soaking up your stress, while also have equally legitimate reasons to stress themselves.
It’s a good idea to set aside some time to address any underlying ‘Fear-of-the-unknown-itis’ by doing a dry run of what will become the morning routine.
For example, if younger kids are going to primary school or Montessori for the first time, walk or drive by the school often, saying: “Look, there’s Sarah’s school!” If they’re heading to secondary school and now need to get a different means of transport, do it alongside them (or, in the case of teenagers, a good few yards behind them) just so they’re aware of what to expect.
Q: My child is going to creche/ school for the first time. What’s the best thing to do if I need to collect them at short notice while at work?
A: With often both parents now in full-time employment, it’s tricky. You need to set in stone your phonecall protocol prior to the beginning of the school year. By protocol, I mean set up a rota. Decide who, between you, your partner and your extended family, can be on call for any given day and give that breakdown to the school. Also, inform your boss what day you may be called upon.
Q: What ailments do kids pick up at school?
A: It’s age dependent, but usually everything. If your child has been in creche, they’ve probably caught all known bugs, viruses and parasites at this point. If you’ve managed to hold off until Montessori, you’re in for a treat! Needless to say, the below is a rough guide honed by personal experiences. Always seek the advice of a medical healthcare professional if you are concerned.
∆ Conjunctivitis: An eye infection which causes them to become sticky and pink. Clean the eye with cool boiled water and cotton wool, swiping once from the inner eyelid towards the outer eyelid. If the problem persists after three days, go to your GP as antibiotic drops may need to be administered.
Do they need to stay home? According to the HSE, they can be in school — however, you will need to inform your child’s school of the condition.
∆ Hand, foot & mouth: This virus presents as blisters, sores, usually around the mouth, as well as on the hands, feet, legs, or buttocks.
Do they need to stay home? No.
∆ Head lice: Lice are rampant and seem to be impervious to almost anything at this point. Whether you use mayonnaise, Tea Tree Oil or over the counter remedies (Lyclear being among the best), your child needs to be treated asap to minimise an outbreak.
Do they need to stay home? No. But you do need to inform the school.
∆ Vomiting/diarrhoea: Bouts of the aforementioned could be indicative of anything — from a 24-hour bug to a bacterial infection. Either way, they’re contagious.
Do they need to stay home? Yes. They can return to school 48 hours after the last episode of either.
∆ Scabies: They’re like head lice, but this parasitic mite is smaller and burrows into the skin causing inflammation and itching.
Do they need to stay home? No. They can return to school after their first treatment.
∆ Slapped cheek syndrome: Most commonly found in kids under the age of 10, this is a rash that appears on the cheek.
Do they need to stay home? No.
And we haven’t even addressed other joys, such as chicken pox, threadworms, glandular fever, scarlett fever, measles, mumps, whooping cough or the ever-present arbitrary virus. For further information, the HSE have a handy infographic indicating when your child can return to school during or after an illness (hpsc.ie/a-z/lifestages/childcare/whenshouldmychildreturntoschoolchildcare).
Q: How Can I help my child get over illness?
A: Time, hydration and love. And more hydration. Also, prepare to have a permanent supply of the following in your medicine cabinet: a decent thermometer; Calpol (paracetamol for children); Nurofen for Children (ibuprofen); Paralink paracetamol suppositories (or, as the husband likes to refer to them, “bum bullets”); a lice comb; Dioralyte (liver salts for rehydration after vomiting or diarrhoea); tea tree oil (good natural antiseptic, can also be used in the treatment of lice), the list could be and is endless.
Q: Do kids really need iPads going to secondary school?
A: Check with the school what is the preferable medium of education/homework and take it from there. If it is a requirement, there are reasonably priced refurbished models available via the Apple website or reputable third-party outlets.
Does that eat into their screen time? Technically (pun partially intended), it does. I recently talked with Dr Colman Noctor, who says: “Screen time is an unreliable indicator of poor usage. I could spend an hour on YouTube learning a song on a guitar, and I could spend an hour on instagram looking at other people’s profiles.
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“Two completely different activities which screen time would measure as the same. So let’s talk less about time spent online and more about what we do online.”
Q: I’m used to creche looking after the kids all year round – what do I do for school holidays?
A: Firstly, see if your creche can still take your child as after-school care. Failing that, there are a range of ‘holiday’ camps available if you, your partner or extended family are unable to divvy out the duties. Sites such as schooldays.ie provide a comprehensive breakdown of what is available nationwide.
Q: How do I know if my child is unhappy at school/ college or being bullied?
A: Obviously keep tabs on their demeanour. Dr Noctor says the signs of potential bullying can range from general withdrawal to appearing “irritable, stressed, and have difficulty sleeping”, and “overcompensating for a lack of control in the school environment by being “overly bossy or aggressive with younger siblings”.
Most importantly, “remember, repeated denial that bullying is happening is not proof that it is not. Children frequently conceal bullying as they feel ashamed and worried about what reporting it will mean”.
Q: How many after-school activities is too many?
A: It depends on the child. While it’s good to be exposed to a range of activities to see what could spark a lifelong interest or skill, it could all just become noise through the sheer volume of activities now available. It’s best to employ the adage ‘everything in moderation’ and remember that downtime is important. More importantly, how will your child ever know how to entertain themselves if they’re being constantly stimulated?
Q: Can I mute the school WhatsApp group?
A: Do so at your peril. You never know what nugget of imperative information you could miss. In saying that, however, make sure both you and your partner is on the group — that way you can share the load. Again, divvy it out by day. But mostly, prepare for your phone to ping like there’s no tomorrow.
Q: I can’t see my kid sitting still for hours… is there alternative means of education?
A: Yes. There are Sudbury Schools — which promote an alternative model of education — popping up all over the country, while homeschooling is also becoming a more popular option. Bunreacht na hÉireann supports the right of parents to educate their own children in whatever way they see fit and there is more information available from citizensinformation.ie.
Q: What can I do if I can’t afford something?
A: ‘Voluntary’ contributions, school uniforms unconventional in colour, school excursions are but a few of the potential costs… As ever, communication is key. Firstly, talk to your school and see if there’s different payment options. Secondly, there is an array of allowances and grants available — such as ‘Back To School Clothing and Footwear Allowance’. Check out education.ie and citizensinformation.ie for details. Thirdly, it is okay to tell your child “no” and mean it.
Dr Colman Noctor is author of Cop On: What It Is And Why Your Child Needs It To Thrive And Survive in Today’s World