A child's first day at school can be crammed with emotions and it's just as likely to be the parents in tears at the classroom door as the children.
If you've read the first in our starting school series, about what to do over the weeks leading up to September, you'll have laid the groundwork. If not, don't worry, there's still time.
A COUPLE OF DAYS BEFORE
Create positive feelings. If you've bought a book about starting school, read it again with your child. Perhaps share some tales of fun things you did at primary school (obviously avoiding anything negative – they really do not need to hear about how scarily strict Mrs Smith was/ how diabolical the lunches were).
Remind them of things they liked if they went to settling in sessions ('ooh I think you'll be able to play with the puzzles/ bikes again'), or something the teacher mentioned during any home visit she made.But don't go over the top - helping them feel good about school is one thing, creating a utopian vision of endless fun and instant friendships might be setting them up for disappointment. Let them know that if they are worried about anything, they can talk to the teacher, or to you about it after school. Pre-empt anxieties they have by mentioning how the basics work – food, loo, where you'll meet them at picking up time. It's fear of the unknown that will usually be underlying children getting upset on their first day.
Ensure you know where you're meant to be and when on day one. Mummy spending 10 minutes getting flustered about where to park or which school entrance to use will not create a relaxing mood. Unless the journey is very straightforward (or you have older children already there), do a 'practice run' beforehand and while you're at it, point out attractive features to your child – the lovely playground equipment or the field for running around on.
Get them into a routine that's compatible with school hours. They might need an earlier bedtime and waking up time. Move towards the new routine over a few days rather than starting it suddenly the day before.
Double-check you've got everything you need on the uniform list and that all items are labelled with nametapes or a laundry pen.
Have your child wear their new school shoes around the house for a few hours to wear them in.
If you won't be dashing into work on the first morning or looking after a younger child, plan a treat for yourself. It will take your mind off wondering how they're settling in or feeling a bit lost without them.
THE NIGHT BEFORE
Get everything ready so you'll be less rushed in the morning – uniform set out, packed lunch made (unless of course they're having school dinners), and crucially get that alarm clock set! Turning up late on day one isn't the ideal first impression to give the teacher...
ON THE MORNING
Getting children from bedroom to classroom on time is a challenge typically involving parents barking "hurry up, we'll be late" about 100 times. Minimising distractions helps - perhaps no TV/ no playing before breakfast. Be clear with your child about what needs doing, when and how.
If they're a messy eater, keep them in their PJs and put uniform on after breakfast not before.
Don't overdo the pics. We all want that perfect first day photo but don't make them pose for hours trying to get it.
Keep your goodbye short but sweet, reminding them to have a good time and that you'll be back to pick them up later. Stringing it out for too long can end in tears which otherwise wouldn't happen.
If they're wobbling at the classroom door employ a (quick) ritual. In reception, my son liked me putting two kisses in each pocket which he could 'grab' if needed.
Avoid saying you'll miss them – it puts ideas in their heads that they'll miss you too.
If you're upset, try not to let them see. Children starting school can bring out all sorts of emotions in parents, from pride to concerns about their ability to cope without you and the classic "how did my baby get so big so fast?'. This is one occasion when putting on a brave face is a good move. A four-year-old will just be confused if you say you're crying because they're such a big boy/ girl now. If you feel teary, do your best to hold it in until they're out of sight, then disappear round the corner and grab the tissues.
If you aren't already working out of the home, and are a bit unsure about what to do now, focus on positives and plan new challenges. If a new job or career is on the cards take a look at www.workingmums.co.uk, www.familyfriendlyworking.com and www.womenlikeus.org.uk for inspiration and job opportunities.
If you've got the day to yourself, instead of disappearing back home to do that clearing out you've been putting off for the last five years, how about suggesting a coffee to the other parents? It'll take your mind off things and help you get to know each other.
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