Some children walk into their Grade One class confidently with a happy wave to mom or dad as they leave.
For others, it can be an anxious time at a new school far removed from their close friends. Anything new is scary even for adults, and even more so for children.
Claudia Abelheim, an educational psychologist with The Family Life Centre, shares tips on how parents can make the transition to “big school” easier on their little ones.
PREPARE YOUR CHILD
1. Talk about their fears.
Talk to your child and find out what scares them when thinking about the first day at school. “This will be a very big change for them and with change always comes a bit of anxiety,” Claudia says.
“Help your child understand what they’re anxious about, and that their nerves are absolutely normal.” You can say something like “Everyone will be nervous on the first day. It’s okay”.
2. Tell them what to expect.
Knowing what will happen when they get to school and what to expect can lessen the fear of the unknown. Some primary schools arrange to have parents take their children to their classrooms and help settle them in.
“If this is the case, be sure to tell your child you’ll be there with them for a little while,” Claudia says.
3. Prepare beforehand.
Make sure your child is organised the night before school. Help them with laying out their uniform, packing their school bag and preparing their lunch. Talk to them about what will happen in the morning and try to keep their old routine in place as much as possible, even as you start a new one.
“Children feel safer with stability and consistency. Your child will feel calmer about all the new changes that are taking place,” Claudia says.
4. Do trial runs.
Visiting the school with your child beforehand or teaching them how to use public transport is important. This helps ease the anxieties and also allows your child to ask questions about the new environment.
THE FIRST WEEK AND THEREAFTER
Be supportive. Give your child as much support as they need. If possible, be available to drop off and pick up your child every day, especially in the first week. If this isn’t sustainable, try to phase it out slowly.
Try to make time every day to talk to your child about their day. But, if you sense they don’t want to talk about it, don’t push.
“Rather, let your child know you’re always available to talk or even just listen and let them choose when and how they want to talk to you. Your child will feel more respected,” Claudia encourages. Teach independence. Teach your child how to pack their bag at night or to wash their socks and polish their shoes after school. This gives them independence and makes them excited about the adjustment.
Watch how they do it and show them how to improve if they don’t get it right the first few times. Show them how you’ve marked their stuff so they know it belongs to them. Keep and mark clearly a spot at home to keep your child’s school bag and important notices they bring home. Learning how to use these spots will teach your child consistency. Help with homework. But don’t do it for your child.
Make every effort to read with your child every day and to help them learn their times tables. Show your child you’re willing to help in their progress and that you’re available when needed. If you’re unable to help, ask an older brother or sister or other family member. Teach them important names and numbers. Help your child memorise the school’s number, the name of their teacher, the school’s name, your number and other emergency numbers.
You can also have those numbers sewn inside their school clothes. Be a fan. It’s very important for Grade Ones to see their parents involved in their school. Whenever possible, attend as many events, sports or open days or parents’ meetings as you can. It’s one thing to encourage your child to participate in sports or events, but it’ll be more meaningful when you’re there to see them do it.
How will you know if your child isn’t coping at primary school? Since, as a parent you know your child best, you’ll probably be the first to spot any change in their behaviour, mood and temperament.
Any drastic change could be a sign of a child who’s struggling. You should be alert if there’s a change in sleeping patterns (sleeping much more or less than normal), an increase or decrease in their appetite and mood (if they become grumpy or sullen) or if they start to lose interest in things that would previously have excited them.
Listen to how your child feels and let them talk about their fears and worries. Sometimes this can be hard to do. As a parent, your instinctive response is to interrupt and put a positive spin on the transition. Instead, allow your child to voice concerns and reassure them of your support and love.