Starting school or pre-school is a huge change for children and parents. For some, it’s a smooth, easy, exciting transition, for others it can be unnerving, frightening and worrying.
I’ve experienced both! Two of my children started school as happy as lambs but my third spent three weeks crying, kicking, screaming every morning as soon as we got close to the school gates. His teacher reassured me that he was happy and content throughout the day, but those moments were really tough to cope with.
Here are seven tips which helped both of us get through the period of change:
- Stay calm - while you might feel torn up inside, ready to kick and scream, or melt into a ball of tears, keeping calm is the best way to transmit reassurance to your child. Focus on the moment and don’t listen to the voice in your head, which is likely telling you to freak out.
- Reassure your child - calmly repeat to your child that they’re going to be okay, that school is a fun and safe place, and that when they finish for the day, you’ll be there again. Just because they won’t be with you, it doesn’t mean you’re going away.
- Establish a morning routine - along with the usual morning stuff, try and allow time for sharing something together before leaving for school. Reading, playing, doing a puzzle, listening to a story together, or just cuddling.
- Allow plenty of time - the days when my son’s reactions were the worst, were those when we’d had to rush. While we’re not robots and things always come up which shake even the most rigorous schedules, try to allow time for everything as well as getting to school before the doors open. It’ll be so much easier to keep calm and be reassuring if you’re not rushing around screaming “teeth, rucksacks, shooooeees” (I’ve been there many a time and it’s not pretty).
- Banish your mobile phone or device - to a hidden place until your children are in school. Unless of course you use it for listening to music or stories in the car (which are both brilliant for distraction before getting to school). It only takes an email from work or a client, a piece of unpleasant news or simply being distracted by external things to shift your mood and attention from what’s most important at that time - your children. I know that this is easier said than done, but the more you make not attending to other things a habit, the simpler school mornings become.
- Share your stories - when you pick your child/children up or when you see them after the school day, make time to listen to stories about their day and share yours too. It’ll make them feel important and they’ll learn more about what you do. So they realise your life continues while they’re not around. And, keep the phone banished during this time too.
- Don’t beat yourself up - it’s not your fault your child is unsettled about starting school, it’s a massive adjustment. You will make mistakes, you won’t be attentive or calm or reassuring all of the time, you may lose your patience and react in ways you aren’t happy with. You may snap, or shed a tear or shout. You are human, you are not perfect, we all lose our nerve every now and then. Your child/children will know you love them if you tell them frequently, if you shower them with hugs and kisses whenever you can, if you share quality moments, if you laugh and cry together, if you are there, without being distracted, to really listen.