Starting school is the first major life event for many young children and a milestone that will naturally create nerves amongst children, and often parents, on the first day. Hundreds of thousands of children will be starting their academic journeys this September, and research shows that anxiety is apparent in young children, with 5% suffering from school phobia or school refusal (refusing to go to school).
The combination of new routines, meeting new people, forming friendships, adapting to classroom structure, changes in environment and learning can be overwhelming for children starting school for the first time or changing schools, so planning and preparation is key in helping your child transition as smoothly as possible.
Dr Elizabeth Croft Consultant Clinical Psychologist at Re:Cognition Health believes in the importance of preparing a child emotionally before starting school, “How children adapt to coping at school is based on many personal attributes including ability, social skills and self beliefs, so preparing a child emotionally starts early with developing strong self-esteem.”
Dr Croft shares her top tips to help children transition smoothly into their school:
1. Arrange play dates with other children who are joining the same class. Familiar faces reduce first day nerves. Orientation visits can also be really helpful so the child has a mind map of the school, the classroom and, importantly, the teacher in advance of starting.
2. Help young children to be more independent in everyday tasks such as telling people what their name is, asking for help, managing fasteners on clothes and shoes, packing school bags and eating independently.
3. Engage with the excitement and the positive aspects of but don’t dismiss any worries or concerns; make it possible for your child to ask lots of questions and answer them openly. Children just starting school worry about a variety of things which might not be what you thought. Find out what it is and don’t guess.
4. The new stationary/uniform experience can provide a practical way for children to engage in the new start. Make shopping a special and exciting experience for them.
5. Establish the school routine in advance of the new school year: Getting up, dressing independently, having meals and snacks on “school time” and trying on the school uniform will all help first day nerves.
6. Some children like to maintain a link with home when first staring school; it could be a note in their pocket from home, a photo of their family or pet or taking their favourite book along.
7. Have something at home to look forward to on the first day back; it might be a favourite food or treat. Make sure you talk about the day and their experiences, including what they did and didn’t enjoy.
8. Support children and encourage them to foster friendships. Play games with your child that help them with sharing and turn taking. This also give them a repertoire of games to suggest when they play with friends.
9. Prepare children early if a new skill is needed such as getting to school alone, moving from class to class, having the right books and materials for different lessons, changing into different uniforms, managing money.
10. Be positive - if children think they are not capable, they are less likely to persevere; hence the importance of fostering sound self-beliefs. Gentle and positive coaching will foster the understanding and belief in a child that he/she has to try hard and be determined even when it is difficult. Perseverance should be recognised and endorsed rather than the success of the end result.