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I know well the building sense of dread as the first day of school approaches. I am currently preparing myself to have my third child start school and it doesn’t seem to be getting any easier!
So what makes it so hard and what can we do to prepare ourselves as well as our children?
There are many factors which cause us to feel overwhelmed by this life stage for our child. For some it is a stark reminder that our child is growing up too fast! For those parents not working full-time or working from home we may grieve the loss of our child’s presence at home during weekdays. Our child may have difficulties managing their own feelings, or have physical, neurological or learning difficulties and we are asking ourselves how they will face the challenges of this new environment? You may worry your child is not ready to go to school and may have difficulty getting their needs met as one of many. Others of us are just plain worried for ourselves – we will be faced with many new people and have to ‘do the dance’ around getting to know other parents, teachers and routines – not to mention the next 10+ years of only taking vacations during school holidays with the other gazillion school children and inflated holiday prices!
If on the other hand you are able to ‘shake it off’ and focus on the positives – Great! Please lend a helping hand to the rest of us!
There is still time to arrange play-dates with other Kindy families before the school year starts, to help alleviate the fear of being faced with a sea of unfamiliar faces on day one. Continue to remind your child that school will soon be starting.
If you have purchased one of our personalised Weaverbirds ‘Starting School Adventure’ stories, now is the perfect time to read and re-read this book. There are many really useful free resources and recommendations on our website, including printable exercises on ‘Sharing Feelings’ and a ‘Validating Emotions’ poster for parents which provides guidance on supporting your child’s emotional development and validating the emotions they share with you about starting school.
In our Starting School Adventure story we have a great exercise called ‘Always in My Heart’ aimed at comforting your child so they know that even when we are not with them, we continue to think about them and feel love towards them; likewise we (and other loved ones) are always in their heart cheering them on throughout the school day. Some parents like to draw a heart on their child’s hand they can look at when they need reassurance or leave a note or little treat hidden in their lunchbox.
Now that we have done all we can to prepare our child, we can then move our attention to ourselves!
Instead of ‘What happens if none of the other parents talk to me?’ say to yourself ‘I don’t have to talk to anyone today, a smile is enough and I will get to know the parents over the coming months (and years!)’
This is the big one for me – when you see their little scared face, it is gut-wrenching. Do you have a plan for what to do if your child becomes very distressed? When they are hanging off me hysterically, the tears start flowing! The sunglasses provide an insufficient disguise! And the canny 5-year old is well aware that now I am distressed too. In this state it is hard to encourage them, show you are confident they will be ok or wish them well and walk away. When I am overwhelmed I know I am not the best resource for my child. I will clearly tell him my intentions, ‘I love you so much and I am really going to miss you today. It is making me sad seeing you so upset, so I am going to say goodbye now and leave you to go into the classroom with Daddy and your teacher. I can’t wait to see you this afternoon.’ I am hoping his Dad can be there – if not, I will be buddying up with another friend who has a daughter starting in Kindergarten, and we can support each other!
A sharp exit from this frazzling situation, and then some strategies to reset. A coffee… a brisk walk… a quick debrief phonecall… jam-pack the work schedule to keep busy… work-out at the gym… whatever works for you. Just as we show compassion to our child and show them that we understand they face a challenge on their first day at school, we must show compassion to ourselves. If the day-one separation was a disaster that is ok, as long as you work to make the day-two separation more successful.
Remember this is a big day for you too, so be prepared to give yourself some time to process it.
There are many professionals both within and outside the school system who are there to offer support if you or your child need it.
Starting school is more of a marathon than a sprint, so be patient with yourself and your child as they settle in, knowing that there are many others who have gone through what you are going through, and successfully come out the other side.