In a day or two, almost 70,000 four-year-olds will be starting school and it's a big day in everyone's life. I'm 53 and I can still remember my first day at school!
Your child is very likely to be anxious about their first day and it's important that you prepare your little ones well. I've given my top tips for preparation below.
But the most important thing is to avoid making the biggest mistake that many parents make - showing your own anxiety, because this fuels your child's anxiety 100 fold. Your feelings are absolutely understandable. All the memories of their birth come flooding back and they just don't seem big enough or old enough yet to be wearing a school uniform. Or maybe it's your youngest child, your baby! The house will be so empty. What will you do all day?
Children pick up on the smallest thing
Most of you will put on a brave face in front of your kids but you need to do more than that. You may be aware of the fact that your child hears EVERYTHING - even when they appear to be distracted.
Even if you didn't realise at the time, they overhear all of your conversations on the phone or over coffee with your friends when you're saying things like "oh I just can't believe my little Johnny is going to school. Oh I'll be in tears" and all things like that.
And THEN you get the whole family to come and witness the great event, Grandma and Grandad and Uncle Tom and his dog Spot, and they're all fussing over Johnny and taking photos and telling him everything's going to be fine when all of your behaviour suggests otherwise.
So what should you do?
The vast majority of children feel more comfortable when things are familiar to them, so the more ordinary you can make their first day, the better. As much as you can, stick to the usual routine in the morning and when they get home. When visiting the school beforehand, make sure that your little one knows things like:
- Where they have to line up if they need to
- Which door they have to go in
- Where to hang their coat
- How to find their classroom
- How to find the loo
All of these things and more, such as driving or walking the route to school so that it will be familiar on the first day, will help your child to feel more settled.
They may not realise that they are anxious about these things until the actual day. When my youngest son started school, one of the boys wet himself because he was too afraid to ask where the loo was. Another girl got very upset because she couldn't open the drink that was in her lunchbox but she didn't want to ask for help.
By thinking about these things, you will make it as easy as possible for your child to feel confident and independent. The little things will make a big difference to them - buy a coat that is easy to put on and take off. Make sure that they have Velcro straps on their shoes and not laces.
Use stories to discuss your child's anxieties with them
Most importantly, don't assume that you know what your child is anxious about. You need to find out what their anxieties are, so talk to them about going to school and how they're feeling.
One of the best ways to do this is to read them stories about going to school. There are a number of books out there but Starting School by Janet and Allan Ahlberg or I am Too Absolutely Small For School by Lauren Child are a couple of examples.
However, the best stories are ones you make up yourself. Perhaps you can make up a story about your first day at school or someone else in the family. It doesn't matter too much about the story itself provided that it gives a positive view on the experience.
The main thing is that it gives you the opportunity to discuss with them how they feel about school and allows them to talk about their fears, however silly they might be. You can then discuss with them how to overcome their concerns and make sure that you explore what is important to them, even if you don't really understand why they are feeling upset about this.
For example, if they're worried about not knowing anyone, make contact with other parents and arrange playdates before term starts. If it's too late for that, take the time on the first day to introduce yourself to other parents in the playground and to their children so that at least they can play together beforehand and then all go in together.
If they're worried about looking "uncool" if they kiss or hug you goodbye, devise a simple code such as linking your pinky finger, which means I love you.
And finally, do NOT, under any circumstances, cry until you have left the school premises and you are no longer in sight! Good luck!