15 Dec How to help your child start school
It’s that time of year when there are graduation ceremonies for ending kindy or daycare. It’s time for your child to start school. Last year my youngest daughter started and it was a big milestone for her, as well as us as a family even though we had done it once before. Sometimes questions of “is my child ready?” float around. I think there is so much focus on whether your child is ready academically, that we can forget to ask if they ready emotionally and socially?
Is your child ready for school?
If your child regularly interacts with children of a similar age, they will have already been putting their social skills into practice. For school readiness it’s important that your child can take turns, talk in sentences, and express their feelings and needs, so that they are able to make new friends. Another aspect to think about is how easily they separate from you as their parents.
Physical readiness is also important, such as getting dressed by themselves, toileting independently, and being able to open and close their own lunch box and drink bottle. I remember a few months with my youngest daughter practicing opening different yoghurt tops so that she could do it herself at lunchtime.
Have you visited the classroom?
It’s a good idea to have your child visit the classroom before the big day to help familarise themselves with the new environment. I think it’s a good idea to create a social story of pictures of the front entrance, the classroom, the toilets, bag racks, playground, and the teacher to help reduce anxiety and make the first day less scary. If it’s possible, try to visit the school in the summer holidays when it’s quiet to give your child an opportunity to recognise the surroundings.
Validate feelings and provide empathy
It’s important to have a balance here. School is exciting and it can also be scary because of the unknown. If your child is worried about something about starting school then validate how they are feeling, even if it’s uncomfortable and you feel like you want to “fix” it. It may sound something like this: “It sounds like you may be feeling worried about your new teacher, and I know that your teacher is there to help you”.
Routine, Routine, Routine
Practice for any changes in routine in advance. This can include changes to bedtime and wake up time, and being ready to leave the house at a certain time. It’s important that a consistent school routine is implemented. The consistency will help your child learn what to do in the mornings and afternoons to get ready for the next day. This all helps promote independence.
The first days and weeks of starting school are exhausting. Your child will be adjusting to a new environment, new peers, new learning, new expectations, and you can expect them to feel overwhelmed by it all. Getting plenty of sleep will help your child adjust and regulate their emotions. Establish a good bedtime routine and avoid allowing your child to nap after school as this may disrupt their night time rest.
The first day will be high with emotions for both of you, but good preparation can ease the transition. Remember to regulate yourself first by taking deep breaths. This co-regulation will help your child have a felt sense of safety. At school, show interest in the teacher, the classroom, and what your child may do that day and reassure your child that you will be waiting for them at pick up time. Don’t be late!
No matter what you are feeling, and how hard it may be to separate, do not sneak away! A cheery “goodbye” and “see you soon” is better for your child than experiencing panic and fear that you have suddenly disappeared.
Good luck to all the parents whose little ones are starting school soon. It is a huge transition for everyone, so be kind to each other and most importantly yourselves!
Sarah Harwood MA MACA RPT,
Sarah Harwood is a Marriage, Child and Family psychotherapist, and a Registered Play Therapist. She is also a wife and mother to two wonderful daughters.