first day school nerves
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Starting school is a huge milestone for your child and for YOU. There’s a huge associated emotional impact associated with the transition. It’s an exciting time that is often tinged with fear and anxiety. It’s a signal that your child is gaining in independence and that can entail a sense of loss.

Your child might experience separation anxiety and feel daunted by this new challenge. Often, young children can’t verbalise this anxiety and it can be a stressful time if you don’t know how to handle it.

Here are some tips to make the process a little easier:

Remember that your child's experience of school won't necessarily be the same as yours. Teachers are nothing like Miss Trunchbull!

Via Giphy

starting primary school
1) Attend enrollment and induction meetings 
 
This can help to allay your concerns and it will also arm you with information to help prepare your child. Most schools arrange an opportunity for a visit in advance of the big day. Be positive about the experience – talk about the yard (playground), the toys and games.  Your child will usually get a chance to interact with their peers. It will help them on the first day if there are a few familiar faces. Emphasise that at school we meet lots of new friends. At these meetings, talk to other parents/guardians to model the process for your child.

2) Read books about starting school and coping with separation anxiety

Books give children a safe remove to explore and to express their feelings. They can relate to the central characters in stories such as Owl Babies.  It helps to normalise fear and anxiety when the child is exposed to books on related themes. For example, the baby owls feel sad when their primary carer goes away, but the story is a happy one because they are reunited at the end. Talk to your child about how the owls might be feeling.  

Recommended reads:

School for Dads Adam & Charlotte Guillain
Always in my heart Roisin Hahessy
The Kissing Hand Audrey Penn
Starting School Janet & Allan Ahlberg
Alfie and the big boys Shirley Hughes
Jellybean goes to school Margaret Roc & Laura Hughes
starting primary school

3) Get creative

Give your child paints/chalk/jumbo crayons/thick colouring pencils (such as twistables). Don’t try to shape the outcome, allow them draw or scribble freely. Let them draw and mark make on large sheets of paper. Activities like this might help them to process any worries or fears. Model the activity by drawing or writing alongside them. This can help you to tune into your own stress and to release and let go. By doing this, you will be in a better position mentally and emotionally to be able to support your child.
starting primary school
4) Play hide and seek and role play
Hide and seek provides a safe experience of separation. It also reinforces the idea that you will return.

 Role play being at school. Make it a positive and fun experience. Include your child’s favourite teddies as “classmates”. Sing action songs and recite known nursery rhymes. Reward excellent behaviour with a sticker!
starting primary school
5) The night before and the big day

Put phones on silent or in flight mode. Take some time out to prepare. Think about relaxation rituals that have worked well for your child in the past, such as a warm bath. Try turning off the “big” light and focusing on a lava lamp. Listen to a relaxing meditation together, such as this one. Pop a teddy on their belly and ask them to notice what happens as they breathe in and out. Exhaling calms the nervous system, this is a fun way to enourage it.  Talk them through what to expect. Use coping talk “you are brave”.  Acknowledge that they might be feeling sad, but emphasise that you know that they will be just fine. 

 
Remind them about other challenges that they have faced and handled well, such as going to creche.
 
*Empower your child by practicing what they could do if they feel anxious. Tell them that blowing out is a magic way to feel calm. You could even blow bubbles together, slowly. Or try getting them to hold their hands in front of their mouth and exhaling. Set aside plenty of time to eat, to get dressed and to travel to school so that it isn’t a rushed affair. Take a special photo to mark the occasion. Sing a favourite song on the commute.
 
 
6) Comfort and reassure
You might like to pop a special image in your child’s lunch box to reassure them.  Slip a tissue with a spritz of your signature scent into their pocket to comfort them. Pop a special photo into their bag or give them an item to “mind” for you until you come back to collect them. This reassures them that the separation is only temporary.
starting primary school
7) Show confidence in their ability
When you arrive at the school, watch your body language and facial cues. Try to hold it together. I know it’s hard, but your child will pick up if you are feeling upset and this can escalate their anxiety. Point out the toys and games on display. Tell them that the teacher looks kind. Don’t linger, even if they cling to you or cry. Give them a hug, a kiss and a high five. Let them know that you will be looking forward to hearing all about their adventures. Plan a special treat after school to celebrate, such as going to the park together.
starting primary school

8) Be kind to yourself

We all respond differently when we are upset or worried. Some people like to distract themselves. 

You might have to go to work.  See if you can grab a coffee with a colleague who will empathise with how you are feeling.

Either way, be selective about who you surround yourself with. Don’t engage with anyone who discounts or minimises how important this is to you.

 

starting primary school

9) Be on time for collection 

Turn up on time to collect your child, but stay out of sight until the teacher is ready to release the children.  This communicates that your child can trust you to return. It is really distressing for a young child if there is no-one there to collect them at the appointed time. 

Make sure to follow through if you have promised to mark the occasion together in a special way. 

 
Remember that your child might be feeling tired after their big day, so try not to ply them with too many questions!
If you found this post helpful, I would be really grateful if you would share it with a friend. Good luck and I hope all goes well for you.
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