The first day of school, whether at a new school or back from a long, relaxed holiday, can bring jitters to students of any ages. Time is often the best therapy to allow your child to settle down and enjoy their time away from home with their new friends and teachers, but there are also some ways to help them beat the first day of school butterflies and adjust to the change.
The prospect of new routines, friends, teachers and subjects can stress out a child, who may not be able to articulate their worries well. Instead, try to look for other telltale signs such as irritation, loss of appetite or a change in sleeping patterns. Be alert and keep an eye on any noticeable changes. For a child who has recently experienced a big change at home, such as shifting houses, he or she could be susceptible to feeling anxious about going to school.
One of the most important things a parent needs to remember is to validate your child’s feelings. Sit down and have a good talk about going to school; talk about the positive aspects that he or she can look forward to and make it sound motivating. Explain that it is normal to feel scared or nervous during the first day, or even the first week. The aim here is to make your child feel excited to go to school and have something to look forward to.
To help your child cope with the transition from home to school, take time to help him get used to the idea and adjust to the change. First of all, try to eliminate as many questions as possible. Who is the new class teacher, what are the new subjects and are they tough? If your child is in a new school, request for a tour and bring your child along. Get them to familiarize with the layout of the school, their classrooms, the toilets and the canteen.
Orientation programs are usually held before the new school year begins. Make sure your child attends the program to prep them for the new environment. During the orientation, parents and students are usually brought on a tour around the school and will be briefed on the new semester; ice-breakers are common in the itinerary to introduce new and old faces to the class. Familiarising your child with the new environment before the semester starts will help them understand what to anticipate on their first day of class.
A new year can mean new friends, and old friends that they have made during the previous years may be placed in different classes. Your child may be worried about being lonely on the first day or having to spend lunch time alone; try to see if you can get the name list and set up a play date to help your child adjust better on the first day. It will be comforting to see familiar faces in a new environment and easier to make new friends too.
A common problem that parents can easily foresee is the mad morning rush. A grumpy child refusing to wake up, refusing to change, refusing to get into the car… Keep in mind that children will feed off your emotions. To avoid all the stress and frustrations in the morning, start setting a disciplined bedtime and morning routine, three weeks before school starts. This will be great for instilling a sense of independence and organisation.
Make it a habit for your child to wake up by himself in the morning, and to always pack the night before. Write down a checklist of things that needs to be packed or any special stationary or textbook that needs to be brought to school. Preparing lunchboxes the night before will save some hassle in the morning.
However, do remember to anticipate that things can go wrong even if you have it all planned out—and when they do, just take a step back and allow your children some time to adjust to the new schedule. Creating a worry-free environment at home is important to prep their attitude for school. If they are apprehensive on the first day and there is crying involve, it will not be wise to increase their anxiety by saying that you will miss them while they are in class. Make the goodbye brief and don’t linger. It may be hard to leave your child alone, but staying will not subside the tears.
For the first week, and especially on the first day, it is best to be home and accompany your child after school hours. Picking up your child may not be an option for many working parents, but do try not to make any plans during dinner time. This is a good time to ask your child about how their first day went and sooth their worries, encourage them if they find their friends intimidating or their teachers strict.
The first day of school could be hard for both parent and child, but at the end of the day it will be rewarding to have your child back in your arms, recounting their day of learning and new experiences. If negative behaviour persists and you have trouble controlling the sobs, it’s best to have a talk with the school counselor and teachers to help your child overcome his worries.
DO be home on the first week to help your child settle down and talk to them about what they did at school.
DO talk to the teachers to keep up with your child's progress, but don't be a hover-parent.
DO write down essential information such as locker combinations, class schedules, class numbers and school bus number.
DO start preparing at least a week before school starts to avoid unnecessary stress.
DO review school books and go through the subjects to create interest and motivation for the rest of the semester.
DON'T prolong the goodbyes when sending your child off to school if he whines; staying will not make it any easier.
DON'T make fun of your child for crying; always remember to be supportive and patient.
DON'T miss the school orientation programme.