The first day at school can be tough for children and parents, but with a little preparation it'll be easier for you to cope.
It helps if your child has the practical skills schools expect before they start. “He or she should know how to sit still, wait and listen,” says parenting expert and mother of three Dr Pat Spungin. “This can be especially hard for little boys who are very physical.
“They have to be toilet trained and know how to undress and dress themself for PE. So ask yourself whether your child is ready to do those things. If not, it’s a good idea to teach them those skills.
“They will probably be quite nervous about starting. But you can’t always tell who will settle and who won’t. A sociable child won’t necessarily fit into school straight away.
“The idea of ’big school' can be very appealing for children but it can also be quite frightening. It's useful to let your child know what’s coming by reading them books about starting school and talking to them about it. That will reduce their anxiety.”
Whatever your child’s reaction to school, remember that the teachers will have seen it all before. Schools are familiar with children who are worried in their first few weeks.
“They usually have a system to help children adjust," says Dr Spungin. "Some schools have a ‘buddy’ system where children are paired with those already established at the school. Or some children might attend for half a day.”
Find out what system your school uses, then you can help prepare your child by letting them know what to expect. Some schools also have open days where children can meet the teacher and see their classroom before they start. This helps them get used to their new environment.
The first weeks
School isn’t easy for everyone. During the first few weeks of school it’s essential to keep communicating with your child and take care to notice signs that things aren't going well.
“It’s not uncommon for a child in their second week not to want to go to school. They'll say, ‘I’ve been to school now and I don’t need to go back’,” says Dr Spungin. “The excitement of the first week has worn off but they still feel nervous.”
Dr Spungin says you can watch your child's behaviour as well as listen to what they say. “Look at your child’s behaviour in the morning when you get ready for school. Are they bright and lively, or dawdling? How do they react when you ask them how their day was?"
Keep your questions simple. “It's difficult for a five year old to answer a question about whether they're happy at school. You'll get more information if you ask specific questions such as who did you play with? Who did you eat lunch with? Are there any naughty boys or girls in your class? Your child might not even know what the word ‘bully’ means."
Talk to teacher
Make the teacher the first person you contact if you think something is wrong. “Start by passing on what your child said,” says Dr Spungin. “For example, point out that your child started off by really enjoying school but is now nervous and has told you that somebody kicked him. Or mention that your child says he doesn’t have any friends. The teacher will know whether that’s the case or not.”
It can be hard to cope when you see your child lining up in the playground for the first time. This is normal, says Dr Spungin.
“It’s your child’s first real step to independence. It’ll be a world that they know and you don’t. When your child settles down and enjoys school it’s a tribute to how well you have raised him or her, so try to look at it positively.”