Starting school may sound easy to some parents and children, but it can be emotionally and physically very challenging for others.
Taking my first-born daughter to school was not quite as much of a struggle as it was with my second-born daughter.
With my first, we talked and prepared for the day without any fussiness. But with my second, it was accompanied by much crying and endless excuses not to go.
The anxiety your child feels is completely normal because they are moving out of their familiar bubble into the unknown; a new school, new rules, and lots of new faces without mom or dad there to hold their hand.
But it's not just the child who feels anxious. The first day of school can be a very emotional one for the parents too, because it's a sure sign your baby is growing up.
Although there's nothing that can take away this emotion and anxiety completely, here are some coping mechanisms to help you deal with the first day of school.
- Visit the school in advance: Plan a visit to the school a week early with your child if you can. Walk through the classroom and the communal areas and explain to them what will happen in each place. This helps your child become familiar with the environment and can allay fears.
- Prepare together: Involve your child in buying their school uniform, picking their school bag, and arranging their books and stationary. This can help boost their excitement.
- Explain the pre-school routine: Talk about the games your child will play in school, the kids they will meet, and reassure them that you (or someone they know) will pick them up at the end of each day.
- Meet the teacher: A good relationship with the teacher will help build your child's trust and allay their fears.
- Set up play dates: As a parent, you can set a play date with some of the new classmates before the big day. Meeting familiar faces may help your child feel less anxious on the first day of school.
- Read books: Reading books to your child that talk about the happenings at school and also validate their feelings may help prepare them.
- Deal with your own anxieties: As a parent, it's natural to be anxious, but remaining upbeat and showing that what is coming is an exciting new adventure will help build their confidence. Don't hold back your tears though, but just try not to show them in front of your child.
- Create a goodbye ritual: A special hug or a special handshake or codeword can provide comfort and familiarity for your child. Avoid long farewells on the day as this will only heighten their anxiety.
- Don’t sneak away: It's common for parents to want to sneak away from the school gates, but this can actually make your child more upset. You could walk your child to their classroom, stick around for a little while, and calmly tell your child that it is time to go and that you will pick them up later. The teacher can also guide you on what to do for the best.
- Bring a comforting object: A favourite doll or book could be a source of comfort to your child. A Sippy cup full of their favourite drink or a favourite snack will also be comforting.
- Do not compare: Children deal with anxiety differently; one may be quiet and deal with their fears gradually, while the other may be loud and shouty. Avoid words like "Your sister/friend never cries while being taken to school."
- Resist surprise visits: Do not call the school every hour. Also avoid surprise visits as this can unsettle your child and give them false expectations.
Learning to cope
It's important as a parent to be calm and trust that your child will be safe in the hands of the teachers.
Children overcome separation anxiety quite quickly, so don't stress too much and trust the process.