The first day of school can be tricky for little people, with many feeling a combination of nerves, excitement and downright terror about how the new experience will pan out. Whether they’ll be starting with friends or going to a brand new school with no-one they know, the very first day of school is a huge step for any child.
Fortunately, there’s lots of ways you can help your child prepare for starting school that will combat nerves and anxiety … for both of you. With some time and plenty of preparation and practice, the two of you can help keep the nerves at bay and focus on all the exciting things that are coming.
1. Talk about it
Spend time talking with your child about the first day of school and explore how they might be feeling. If you sense that your child is worried, unpack this a little and encourage him to share. You might also bring up the topic of school whenever something reminds you of it. For example, when you’re reading books together at bedtime, you can tell your child that school will help him learn to read.
2. Normalise the nerves
It’s important to emphasise how normal it is to feel nervous about the first day of school, and that every other kid is feeling the exact same way. The last thing you want is for your kid to feel ashamed of how he’s feeling. You could also share your own experiences of starting school, which will help your child grasp that even Mum felt worried on her first day.
3. Practice, practice, practice
Spend as much time as you can practicing for the big day. Try on the uniform and practise putting on and taking off shoes and socks. Give your child a packed lunch to practice with at home, so he can get used to any tricky lunch box fasteners and drink bottle lids. Dealing with a big bulky school bag can also be hard at first, so be sure to let your child practice wearing it and using with zippers.
4. Read together
Books are great for exploring topics and normalising new experiences. Find a great book about starting school and read it regularly with your child, pointing out interesting pictures and discussing what you see. For example, if the child in the book is playing at lunchtime, ask your child what he’d like to do during playtime at school.
5. Discuss ‘what if’ scenarios
If your child is nervous about particular scenarios, go through them together and talk about what he should do if that scene arises. For example, if he’s worried about having a toilet accident, discuss what he should do and point out the place in his school bag where there’ll be a spare pair of underpants.
6. Get him involved in the school shop
Ask your child to help with school shopping so he can be involved in the preparations for the first day. For example, he could choose a drink bottle and lunchbox set, or help you put labels on his things. You could also talk about what he’d like to eat for lunch and snacks while he’s at school.
7. Discuss the morning routine
Kids love routines as they help with predictability and give them a sense of security, so talk about how the schedule will go for each school morning, including that all-important first day. You can even create a visual list detailing the routine using images and place this where your child will see it every day. That way, when the first day of school comes around, your child will be more than familiar with how the morning will pan out.
8. Plan a special activity
As the first day of school approaches, plan a special activity for after pick-up time, so he has something to look forward to after school. For example, going for a milkshake or special treat, which can give you both the opportunity to chat about how the day went and commemorate the special occasion.
9. Stay positive – even if you feel just as nervous!
It’s completely normal for you to feel nervous about the first day of school as well, but be aware that your child will pick up on whatever emotion you are wearing. So even if you feel sick to the stomach, keep a bright and cheery smile on your face and repeat how exciting it all is! Don’t worry, there’ll be time for your tears after the drop-off, along with all the other emotional parents.