Last year we were there with our youngest son Darragh who started primary school.
He’s heading into senior infants this year, 6 years of age full of bravado telling me “I am the boss of myself – you don’t know my mind”. You can imagine what these columns will be about in the teenage years!
Like most parents we wonder how our little ones adapt to starting school. While going to school for the first time can be exciting for some children, it could also be stressful for others. Any sudden change in a child’s routine can make it extremely stressful for the child. Before you begin to prepare your child for their starting school, it is important you as a parent deal with any of their anxieties or fears you may have. For some parents their youngest or only child is starting primary school and while they have the experience of starting children successfully there is a loss of the “baby stage” that can bring a real sadness.
Children can pick up on such anxieties, making them feel stressed about the idea of starting school and being separated from you.
1. Practice - The first and most important thing you can do for your child to ease any fears or anxieties is to introduce them to the school environment. By bringing your child along to the school they will become familiar with the physical space. It’s not too late to “structure” some play dates with potential other new entrants. This will help give them idea of what to expect and make them feel more comfortable.
2. Social Stories - Combine this experience with talking about the event. Try talk to your child about the positive things they will appreciate about school. These include: making new friends, participating in fun activities such as arts & crafts or sport. Story books about starting school are also useful. Additionally talk to your child about how they feel about starting school and take note of any worries. Try to ease these by providing your child with various scenarios.
3. Role Play - This I think is the most powerful strategy parents can use. For example; ask your child what do you do if you need to use the toilet. Inform your child that they need to ask one of grown-ups in the classroom if they can use the toilet. By preparing your child it will make your child more comfortable and confident in the classroom.
4. Preparation - Parents who show interest and enthusiasm about school can inspire their children to embrace the same positive thoughts and feelings. One way of eliciting excitement about school is by involving your child in buying school stuff such as pencils, rubbers etc. If possible allow them to pick out their own lunch box and school bag. This will make their first day a school all the more exciting.
5. Establish Routine: Do not wait until the last minute to establish school habits. In the upcoming weeks agree on bed time and wake up times that will resemble the routine whilst school begins. By preparing your child in this way, you are ensuring that they will not feel out of sorts once school does start, which will make the transition easier for both you and your child. Our family really need to take this advice, the summer has thrown routine out the window – serious note to self; get to bed at eleven; kids in bed at 8:30.
6. After School Plans - Do they go to formal or informal childcare or come straight home after school? Will you be collecting your child from school or will a family member, friend or babysitter be collecting them? Some children go to after-school care on certain days only and come straight home other days - ensure your child is aware of any plans so as to avoid confusion or distress. If at all possible, try and avoid 'after-school' clubs or babysitters during the first week back at school. Your child will no doubt feel tired, excited or even nervous during the first week back.
7. On the Day - When the day does arrive, it is advisable that you do not linger around the classroom. If your allowed, bring your child into the classroom and tell them you will be back to collect them later, do not set a specific time. A quick exit may be more useful to your child than a drawn-out goodbye. You can call the school later to check on how a young child is doing. And you’ll probably find out that their doing fine.
Bottom line is that this is a big transition in both your life and your child’s life which is a significant emotional and exciting time that throws up complex emotions.
Our first day in school represents our challenge for life; which is to learn to adapt and embrace and accept change.
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