It’s a huge emotional wrench when your child goes to school for the first time. However much you think you may have prepared for your child’s first day of school, both emotionally and practically, walking away from the school without a squidgy little hand in yours is hard.
Thankfully, there are positives too: it gets easier the next time, if you have younger children, and you may even claw back some time for yourself.
Experts have lots of advice about coping with parental separation anxiety but it’s also good to know you’re not alone and that the vast number of parents feel emotional when their children start school.
We talked to parents about their experience and got a few tips on managing the worries and feelings of loss and redundancy as your child takes their first big step to independence.
It's an emotional rollercoaster
“There are bound to be tears and emotion on the first day of school - and that’s just you,” says Ellie Gibson, mum to Charlie, seven, and Joe, three, and one half of The Scummy Mummies comedy duo who host a podcast for parents.
“Try and hold it in at the school, but you’re allowed a little cry back home. I remember it being so weird that I could drink a whole cup of tea and no one was going to ask me to wipe their bottom. It’s traumatic and emotional - but it can also be a wonderful next stage in your life.”
You’ll feel out of control
Jasmine Jones, mum to seven-year-old Jodie said she found the lack of control when her daughter started school really hard to cope with.
“As a parent you’ve chosen the childcare you want - childminder, nanny, nursery, whatever - and you have a relationship and trust them, and then suddenly you’re handing your darling baby over to a teacher for a whole day, someone you don’t know,” she tells HuffPost UK.
She says she spent the whole first day mentally tracking what her daughter would be doing at that precise moment. “I’d never admit to worrying that my child wouldn’t be able to reach a sink or do her zip up, but that was the level of my angst.”
Prepare for new teacher anxiety
Fiona Whitle, mum to Amy, 13, Sadie, 12, Tom, 10 and Harry, seven, was also initially worried about leaving her kids with a new teacher for the day. She remembers thinking her eldest daughter’s reception teacher was cold. “I went straight home and called all the other local schools to see if there might be a late place for my daughter,” she said, explaining she thought she’d handed her daughter over to an “unfeeling monster”.
When she went to pick her daughter up at the end of the school day she realised she had overreacted. “When she burst out and gave me a hug, she could not have been happier or more chatty. Over time I realised Maggie, her teacher, was just very shy and also very kind and the kids loved her. All four of my children went through reception class with her.”
You’ll walk down memory lane (whether you want to or not)
Henrietta Hastings, mum to Alfie, six, hadn’t anticipated that her son’s first day would remind her of her own school days.
“I felt like the keep-up kid who didn’t know where I was meant to be standing in the playground and was watching all the cool gangs hugging each other and swapping holiday stories,” she recalls. “I didn’t enjoy my school days, so it wasn’t a happy feeling. I got used to it but I always make a bee line to chat to those parents who look really nervous on the first pick-up time.”
Be kind to yourself
Lindsay Grieves, mum to Ollie, 10, and Louis, eight, says there’s no right way to feel or behave on your child’s first day at school – you may find it super emotional, you may not.
Either way, she recommends a little self-care to take your mind off things: “Plan a treat for yourself on your child’s first day. Don’t just go to work or back to an empty echoey house to scrub the bathroom. Go for a late breakfast with a friend – that was a life saver for me – or do whatever will make you happy and take your mind off your child temporarily.”
Trying to get yourself out the door by a certain time can be stressful enough, let alone adding a small person to the mix. Sarah Cuttle, mum to Sophie, eight, and Ollie, six, knows this too well. “As a full-time mum I really missed lazy mornings and resented having my day book-ended by school,” she said.“We were late a lot the first term and it made my daughter super-anxious, so try and be organised than I was.”
But it’s not only in the mornings that organisation is vital. Jeannie Kelly, mum to Brian, nine, and Ottolie, five, warns of after-school meltdowns when overtired children emerge from the school gates. “My advice is come armed with snacks, don’t make any after school plans and move their bedtimes forward an hour. Good luck.”