How can a parent psychologically prepare their child for their first ever day at school and make the experience less stressful?
Over the summer and in the weeks leading up to school starting start preparing your child, here are some ideas to this:
- Talk about school in a very positive manner, be excited for your child and explain how they will make lots of new friends and learns lot of new things. You could even play some games about school with your child’s teddies/dolls, gentle teaching them some of the rules of school for example putting your hand up, taking turns etc.
- If your child has older siblings they are possible very familiar with the school and where it is and what it looks like. Some schools do an induction day for the new children starting so they can walk around the school and meet their teacher ahead of time. If this isn’t the case for child’s school bring your child up to the school to have a look around and see what their new school likes like. This will create a picture in the child’s head on where they are going.
- Get your child involved in the organisation of starting school for example let them pick out their schoolbag, lunchbox, pencil case etc. Let them try on their uniform and school shoes a few times so as they get used to it. Closer to the time have a run through of them using their lunchbox so that they are ok opening lids, taking on and off their coat etc.
- If possible try and arrange a play date for your child with another child that will be in their class. It will make them feel less anxious and more comfortable if they know another child in their class when they start.
- A week before school starting start getting your child into a good routine, going to bed at the time they would be going when they start school and up at the same time.
On the day itself
- If you are working and if it is possible try and take a couple of days of so as you are not rushing to get out the door to drop your child off.
- When you are getting your child dressed or over breakfast casually ask how they are feeling and if they are worried about anything, if they are worried about something alleviate their fears and reassure them that it is going to be great and that they will really enjoy themselves.
- When you arrive at the school be as relaxed and casual as possible. Hopefully your child will be so absorbed with all the new things around them they won’t really notice you saying goodbye and leaving.
- When you are saying goodbye indicate a sense of time linked to an activity to when you will be back to pick them up, for example “ I will be back to pick you up after you play with your friends in the yard”. Children that age struggle with a sense of time and what 1.30pm might mean.
- Don’t linger saying goodbye if your child sees that you are anxious they may start getting anxious too.
- Trust the teacher that if your child starts to become upset that they have the tools and the skills to manage the situation.
- Do not be late picking up your child it is really important they you are there on time when you said you would be. Your child has to trust you and not be afraid that they have been abandoned.
- If your child is not very chatty about what they did during the day don’t push them, if they seem happy that’s enough.
How can you alleviate your own anxiety?
Your child starting school is a big milestone in your child’s life and in your life as their parent, especially if it is your first child. If you follow the above steps and are well organised you and child will be less stressed and therefore less anxious on their first day. It is however totally normal to feel sad on this day and of course shed a couple of tears after you leave the school. Your baby is growing up!
Our own experience of school can impact on our anxiety levels and just be mindful of this, really try and stay positive for your child. As parents we are very aware of what are children need, how they feel etc., however children are also attuned to how we are so if we are anxious they can pick up on this and take these worries on. You don’t want your child to be worried about you! After you get through that first morning maybe and try and arrange to have a cup of coffee with another mum/ dad and you can chat through the experience with them
What if a child reacts badly on their first day-What can you do?
Separation Anxiety can be expressed through feelings of anger and sadness. Many children will get upset or may have a temper tantrum when you say goodbye and leave. These incidences may make you feel guilty or anxious, just remember that this is such a positive step in your child’s life and that they will settle.
If the drop off does not go well look back on that morning and see were things as calm as they could have been at home? Were you too rushed? Could you tweak the morning routine to see if things could run more smoothly, so that you and your child are less stressed? Try and distract your child as much as possible chat away about things so as to distract your child from having too much time to worry.
Again follow the above steps when you leave them on the second day, reassure them that they will have a great day and that you will be back to pick them up. Really importantly don’t linger when you are saying goodbye, don’t wait for a response from your child just leave. Again remember to trust the teacher that they have the skills to manage this situation, they are very used to seeing this type of behaviour they see it every September. If you stay and try and comfort your child it can only escalate your child’s distress. If you don’t leave your child they cannot get used to the separation and move on from it. When you come and pick up your child again really focus on the positive aspects of their day, if they bring up what happened on the drop again acknowledge their feelings and reassure them but don’t spend too much time on it move onto the positive aspects. Seeing your child so distressed is very difficult but you need to follow through on this plan and your child will settle.