This is the third blog in a series to support families preparing their child for starting school. In this blog, Whoosh Learning is focusing on how to prepare your child positively and confidently for separating from you on their first days of starting school. From my experience this is one of the biggest worries for parents and children. For some children they will have had very little or no sustained length of time away from their parents. Becoming separated, not holding your hand or having a family member by their side can seem like a huge step when starting school. Anxiety can naturally start to build. We are going to explore how to prepare for a calm start to school for both you and your child.
By now you will be reminiscing about how grown up your child has become. You will be wondering how the last 4/5 years have gone so quickly and start to remember your own childhood experiences. You may also start worrying about what experiences your child will have. All of this is completely natural and it is one of the key times where you stop and realise that your child is growing and changing and will start to develop more independence as they move into formal schooling. By acknowledging and being ok with your feelings about this time in your child’s life then you will feel more accepting and quietly confident. Children are perceptive and will pick up on your vibes so be prepared to be positive and outwardly jolly!
Top Tips to ease separating and associated anxiety
We know from our own experiences that if you are prepared and have an awareness of expectations, then you will generally feel less fearful. Investing the time to help children prepare in separating from their primary caregiver is time well spent! So over the next week or so start to talk a little bit about the following:
- their teachers – maybe think about what they have been doing over the summer. Your child could produce a painting, collage, drawing that they can take to school on their first day – it can then be displayed on the wall and this act can shift your child’s focus and distract them from their worries.
- talk about what they will be doing at school e.g. story time, having a snack, playing with new friends and maybe the things that they might like to play with. If you are due a home visit from a teacher before they start school then you could ask what their routine is on their first few days so you can talk this through together.
- try on their uniform and put things in their school bag. Practise opening their bags, putting on their coat, recognising their name, opening the lid on their water bottle. All these little bits of preparation in making them feel confident will help reduce anxiety.
Use books, social stories or personal stories
Many schools use social stories as a tool to help children prepare for real life events that they will encounter. By sharing these stories they help to ease anxiety and can help set expectations for behaviour. Below you will find an example of a social story about going to school. Social stories can be used to help prepare your child for what their school day may be like. You could share this a few times leading up to starting school to help to explain what will happen OR download it and adapt it for your child’s own school.
Alternatively, as mentioned in my one of my previous blogs on transition, by reading a range of child stories about going to school will also help children prepare for school in a fun way. They will be able to empathise with the characters, talk about their feelings and also compare their experiences with the characters in the story. If you need some suggestions on texts then please see my first blog on little steps forward or click here.
This is me books
Some schools encourage photos of the family or a special book to come in from home all about themselves – a ‘This is me’ book. These books/ photos are so important for all children and create a snapshot of their home and family life. It bridges their life from home to school and gives teachers a ‘way in’ when children are missing Mummy, Daddy or another family member. These books are cherished, loved and often get well thumbed throughout the year! When a child is having a ‘wobbly’ moment, sitting and enjoy their special book is comforting and familiar. What then happens is a long queue of children forms wanting to share theirs. They love their books and will remember the times they have curled up with it and shared it with someone.
- Start calm– On their first day start the day calmly and with plenty of time for your morning routine. Try not to be in a rush as this can increase panic for you both. Take a calm journey to school drawing attention to things around you. For example, wildlife, weather, friends you see along the way.
- Children crave consistency – find a morning routine that works for you and keep it the same. This will help your child to know what’s coming next and feel safe and secure. Ultimately a regular routine will aid your child in becoming independent. One day, without realising, you won’t even need to remind them anymore. They will be waiting for you by the door with teeth cleaned, shoes on and bag packed!
It’s time for school drop off! My top tips!
- Depending on school policy, go in and have a little look at what is out that morning. Take the time to settle your child with an activity or with a child – maybe someone they know already.
- Stay positive and cheerful – yes I know this will be hard when you are worried about them settling !
- Acknowledge your child’s feelings. For example saying “I know you’ll miss us but you’ll see us very soon.”
- Say goodbye and resist the urge to sneak off. Children need to know you are going but that you will be back. So reassure and say you will be back to pick them up after …. Lunch, snack, playtime.
- If your child is upset, which is quite common initially, then explain to them you have to go. Try to not prolong it as this does build up the anxiety even more.
- Leave your child with a staff member. They are experts in distraction and reassurance with many other techniques up their sleeves!
- If you are concerned then give the school a ring or ask the school to ring you. Don’t stay and peek through the windows!
Lastly…I always suggest sunglasses on the first day… hides the tears Mums and Dads 😊 You can do it and trust me they will have a great time! Take some deep breaths and go and reward yourself with a cuppa after you have dropped off. Be proud.. you did it and now a new adventure and chapter begins!