August 29th, 2014

Starting School

The new school year is not far away..... and the key to a successful start to school is PREPARATION, PREPARATION, PREPARATION!

Take some time NOW to Set Up For Success!

Familiarise your child with their new school. Visit or look at pictures of the new school often. Hopefully you will have had a visit where your child could see the parts that will affect him - his classroom, the toilets, the dining hall, the assembly hall, the playground.

  • Reading books about starting school is a good way to teach your child about the reality of school life. Try the following books:
  • Uniform - Get any uniform well in advance and try it on. Practice getting in and out of it and go through the morning routines eg would you prefer that uniform goes on after breakfast to minimise the chance of spills? Should your child get dressed in the kitchen to avoid the distractions of a bedroom? Should hair brushes and toothbrushes be downstairs to make for a quicker getaway? All these things need thinking through.
  • Practice
    • If they’re starting school for the first time explain unfamiliar things like bells and what they signify.
    • Play schools –sit on the mat to get them used to ‘circle time’, call the register and practice saying hello, practice making eye contact, asking questions and putting hands up, asking to go to the toilet. Let them be the teacher and you the student and explore through play what behaviour is required in school.
    • If they’re not yet independent in going to the toilet on their own, it’s a good time to practice wiping bottoms, flushing and washing hands.
  • Friends –are a very important part of school
    • If you know of anyone else starting at your child’s school try to make contact before the term begins so there is a familiar face when they go. The school may put you in touch with people in your neighbourhood.
    • If your child is a bit shy it will be worth practising some opening lines for making conversation with other children. Remind them that the other children will all be new too.
  • Chat through what school will be like (in a positive way) –
    • Tell them that you will be there every day at the end of the day to talk about things and look forward to hearing about what they did. But don’t pump them for information –kids are often tired at the end of the day and they live in the moment so often don’t share much about what happened earlier.
    • Explain that if they are worried about anything, they can always go and speak to the teacher and that you and the teacher are working together to make sure that things go well for them at school.
    • Maybe talk about your experiences of being a child at school (positive ones). Mention friends, the activities you liked best, the games you played, the teachers you remember fondly. Maybe find a photo of you when you were at school. 

Build confidence by focusing on your children’s efforts, attitude and improvements – not results!

Although schools keep their main focus on results, we can provide an alternate view, putting the emphasis on the journey or process. Keep noticing these qualities WHENEVER and WHEREVER your children display them using Descriptive Praise to describe in detail the ‘good’ stuff they do. 

If we can point out to them qualities that they are showing in non-academic areas they will be more likely to transfer those attributes to school life. 

For example: “I am impressed how you kept working on this puzzle. It’s complicated but you kept going until you finished it.” Or “You made such an effort to keep up with everyone today, and you kept a smiley face and a happy voice which meant we all had a lovely day out together.” 

Helping them cope with their feelings

There are many feelings associated with school – good ones, and not so good ones. And we need to know how our children feel – even when the feelings are ones that we’d rather protect them from, or don’t feel comfortable handling. 

When we acknowledge negative feelings we reduce the need for children to ‘act out’ these feelings in ‘misbehaviour’ - such as irritability or being ‘mean’ to siblings or rude to parents or indecisiveness or defiance. Instead we help them learn how to identify and manage negative feelings appropriately. When we accept feelings we encourage our children to talk. 

For example: “I imagine you are totally exhausted by all the new things you have to deal with this week. It probably feels quite overwhelming.” Or “You might feel like you can’t possibly do one more thing for anyone this afternoon. You’ve been told what to do all day long, and now all you want to do is nothing.” 

Remember, there is a clear distinction between acknowledging negative feelings and condoning negative behaviour. So, although it’s understandable a child might feel left out at school, it is NOT acceptable to hit a sibling. 

Sometimes children’s excitement at starting school is tinged with the conflicting and confusing feeling of anxiety. 

Sometimes feelings have physical manifestations – butterflies in the tummy, headaches, eczema or nausea. It can help children to know that these feelings won’t last and there are solutions too, like breathing, visualisations or distraction. It helps to hear that other people have similar feelings – most children love hearing about your experiences at school. 

Empathise with any reluctance to go to school. It is TOTALLY normal for there to be times when they don’t want to go. Sometimes it’s not till the excitement of the new activity wears off that your child experiences some doubt. 

Talk about common concerns around starting a new school:

    • Will the teacher like me?
    • Will the other children like me?
    • Will I be able to do what’s asked of me?
    • How will I know what to do?
    • What if I get lost?
    • What if I need to go to the loo?
    • I don’t like the look of the toilets.
    • I don’t like the food at lunchtime.
    • It is too noisy and confusing at lunchtime/sports or I don’t have anyone to play with.
    • How will I remember where to put my things? 

For example: “I bet you wish you could stay at home today – it’s such a huge change to being on holiday. You probably wish we were still on the beach.”

“You might be feeling both excited and a bit nervous about starting school. Maybe you are worried you won’t know anyone and you won’t make friends quickly.  Maybe a part of you is also looking forward to making new friends and having more activities. It can be confusing when you feel two different feelings at the same time.” 

And lastly! 

First, remember how tiring school is in the beginning.  It’s not unusual for children to display regressive behaviour – sucking thumbs, using baby voices, disrupted sleep, rudeness - because they are so exhausted by their efforts to be ‘good’ at school.  Plan time for them to rest each afternoon and at the weekend – avoid lots of playdates and activities until things settle down. 

And, secondly, our children follow where we lead. When we enthuse, we create enthusiasm. When we look forward to new challenges, they do too. And when we show an appetite for learning, this is reflected in our children.  So, be positive about school, and it will help give them a very good start.

 What are your memories of starting school –either yourself or your older children? My eldest had settled into nursery so easily I wasn’t prepared for the upset when she started ‘big school’. I often went on to work upset after dropping her off.

If you’ve found these ideas helpful please share them on your favourite forum/social media platform and sign up for our regular newsletter (click here)–full of parenting news, information and ideas. 

Happy parenting,

 Melissa and Elaine

Posted in: Handling emotions , Parenting Tips, Tools and Techniques , Schooling , Secondary School





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