A child’s first day of school is a huge milestone in their life.
“School should be something that is talked about from an early age so kids know it’s a really normal thing for children to do,” Amanda Gummer, child psychologist and founder of Fundamentally Children told The Huffington Post UK.
Here are five key things parents can clue themselves up on before their child heads to school in September.
1. The common mistakes parents make.
One of the biggest mistakes parents make is relaying their feelings of anxiety to their child in the weeks leading up to their first day.
“This makes the child think there is something to be worried about,” Anne Swift, president of the National Union of Teachers told HuffPost UK.
“Some parents build it up to be a big step and on the first day they say things like: ‘You will be okay won’t you?’ which portrays school negatively.”
Another common mistake is made during the “moment of separation” as school starts, when parents find it hard to leave.
“The best thing to do is to give the child a hug and kiss, tell them who will be picking them up, say goodbye, and go - don’t look back,” Swift said.
“Let the teachers take over. I have never known a child to cry for more than a few minutes as they quickly get involved in activities.”
2. Practical ways to prepare your child for school.
“There are lots of things you can do to decrease the chances of children getting upset on their first day,” Gummer said.
“Familiarisation is key and making friends with other children who will be starting at the same time can really help.
“Role play ‘schools’ at home with your child and relate it to play groups or nursery, which he or she is already comfortable with.”
Swift agreed, adding that you should involve your children as much as possible in any preparations you need to do and make sure they are equipped with all the essential skills they will need on their first day.
“Have fun getting prepared with your child,” she said. “Involve them in buying the school uniform, learning to recognise their name as it will appear on coat hooks, learning to dress themselves independently, using a knife and fork, or going to the toilet unaided.
“There are also lots of books such as ‘Lucy And Tom Go To School’ by Shirley Hughes, ‘I Am Absolutely Too Small For School’ by Lauren Childs and ‘Spot Goes To School’ by Eric Hill, which can be a good way to introduce them to it.”
3. How to talk about school.
Swift said parents should begin talking more about “big school” during the summer months.
To help children understand when they will be going, she suggested getting a calendar to pinpoint the days and weeks until they start.
“Talk matter of factly about it,” she said.
“If they’re nervous talking about school, make indirect statements such as: ‘I wonder if there was any singing today’ or ‘I had ham sandwiches for lunch I wonder what was served for school dinner’.”
Once your child has started school, Swift said avoid asking your child if they were alright and instead ask general questions such as: ‘What story did you have?’
Gummer said all conversations and words used when talking about school should remain positive.
“It can be an anxious time for parents, but try not to let your children pick up on any worries you have,” she added.
4. What to do if your child is anxious.
Parents of children who are shy or anxious should try to make school familiar to them by removing as many of the “unknowns” as possible.
“Walk the route to school and visit the school when the children are coming out so the child can see how happy they are,” Swift said.
“Sometimes bringing a small toy or object from home that they can keep in their pocket and touch for reassurance can maintain a connection between home and school.
“Ask the teacher what songs, rhymes or stories they will be using in the first few weeks and then use these during the summer so they’ll be familiar when the teacher teaches them to the class.”
Don’t be afraid to ask the school for further visits, Gummer added.
“If your child is very anxious, organise a familiarisation visit and take the school up on any offers of open days or even home visits from reception teachers.”
5. What to do if your child is overly-confident.
“Don’t dampen their enthusiasm,” Swift advised.
“Some children are more ready to start than others, but some who seem unconcerned can have a wobble after the first week.
“It’s worth preparing your child with the advice mentioned above anyway, even if they appear as if they will take it in their stride.”
Gummer agreed and added it’s not uncommon for kids who seem fine to them have a wobble.
“Don’t assume that children who seem overly-confident will remain so,” she added.
“It can be an act that they put on to cover up their anxiety.”