So, the long hot summer is over. The preparation has been done, you’ve gone over how exciting big school is, you’ve read books about the first day and you’ve done a few dummy runs…..you know, just to make sure. The uniform has been tried on and bought. The shoes have been purchased and worn in (so they are comfy without getting dirty) and the obligatory first day photos have been posted on Facebook and the family/friends Whatsapp group…now what? What happens next?
This is the first of two blogs we have written about school, this one focuses on when your child first starts in reception, what can be going on for your child and how to support them in the first term when everything is new and different and strange. The second one will look at those lovely moments we endure at the school pick up – the after school meltdown or as we called it – the post school apocalypse!
So back to starting school…….
It’s such an important milestone, there are so many “Firsts”. Children are learning new routines and skills, forging new relationships and becoming more independent. New friendships are made and then broken. Learning to read – although exciting for both you and your child, is rewarding and frustrating and tiring – all at the same time. Getting on the ‘homework’ wagon, goes really well some days and not so well others. Getting to grips with the endless birthday parties and trying to work out what they have had for lunch is and will continue to be a nightmare. You will deliver your child to school looking pristine and smart, with socks at the appropriate height and jumpers clean and unmarked, only to be picked up 6 hours later looking as if they have taken part in a Mud Run, the Holi festival of colours and the best food fight ever…all in the space of a few hours. Be prepared for the onslaught of coughs and colds and for the regular alerts of head lice and Chicken Pox. All of this is part and parcel of going to school and once you have accepted it, it will be so much better for you in the long run – the day will soon come when getting them to school in something that roughly resembles the colour of their uniform will be a triumph.
Those first few days can be a really exciting time, but it can also be exhausting and emotional for both parent and child alike. What should we expect from our children, what is happening for them and what can we do to support them through those first few weeks in class?
- Firstly, have realistic expectations. Accept that your children will get tired, they will get bored and there will be days when they do not want to go. We all know the old adage of – school days are the best days of your life, but is this the case for everyone? Definitely not and as the term progresses, reality can set in for your child – “What? I have to go every day??”
- If possible, try not to overschedule their days. Activities and after school clubs are great and we want them to be active and involved, but too much can be overwhelming and leaves little time to relax and just be a child.
- Give them some time when they first come home from school. Often they will not want to talk about their day until they have had time to process it themselves. Can you imagine walking through the door after a long day at work and a stressful journey home and your partner immediately bombarding you with questions, “How was your day? What did you do? Who did you have lunch with? What did your manager say about the project you completed? My guess is you would either get angry, or just withdraw. Children are exactly the same. Give them some space.
- When you do ask them questions about their day, try to avoid the “How was your day?” This is guaranteed to get a “Fine”, when what you are actually looking for is a minute by minute run down of your child’s exciting and fun filled day. Instead, think about some questions you can ask once your child has had some time, that give you the information you are craving but allow a child to use their imagination and are not directly about school. Something like, “If you had to go to the moon in a rocket, who would you take?” and “What was the funniest thing that happened today?” Share your day with them, conversations are a two way thing.
- Have a small snack ready for them at the school gate. Often children come home from school ravenous and start to graze, meaning that dinner is often rejected because they have filled up on snacks. Having something of your choice ready, helps to prevent this, prevent grumpiness (sometimes) and takes the pressure off you.
- School is exhausting and a big change for your child so you may see some regression back to younger behaviours. They may talk like a baby, want you to feed them, wake frequently at night, or even want to come into your bed. This is normal, emotionally they are going back to a stage where they felt safe and where they did not have to be so independent. As frustrating as it is, go back and meet your child at the stage they have regressed to, play it down and support them through it. Generally, it will pass quickly, however if it becomes prolonged, speak to the teacher or seek professional advice.
- Support them to work out their own friendships and peer groups. Be sympathetic and listen, but pull back from being tempted to ‘fix’. Relationships are difficult, there will be fall outs and arguments (and that’s just between the parents!). They are normal and are needed in order for children to understand how relationships work and how to resolve conflicts. It is so tempting to step in, but often by the time we do this, our children are the best of friends and playing happily again, but none of the parents are talking to each other.
- Be prepared that the happy little soul you delivered in the morning may well turn into an emotional mess by tea time. It is not unusual for children to have tantrums, even if they have passed this stage. The pressure of everything new, being away from you and the tiredness that goes with this can all lead to feeling exhausted, angry and overwhelmed.
So good luck – it’s a good time, but it can also be testing for all involved. Try to think what this new experience is like for your child and how you can support them. Coming soon – the post school apocalypse – what the hell is all that about???
Sarah and Michelle run a company called Purple Parenting, offering behaviour and sleep support through individual work, groupwork and workshops. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange your free telephone consultation to help with behaviour, selective feeding and fussy eating, sleep, tantrums, aggression, anger, anxiety and more.