Features

Beating ‘first day’ blues
Victoria Holthaus offers a guide on preparing your child to start school

The first day at school can be daunting for the whole family.

As back-to-school signs hang in seemingly every shop window, there is no denying that school days are just around the corner. The summer is winding down and as anticipation for school picks up, parents are preparing their little ones for the first day of school. Many parents are anxious about this new journey in their child’s life, especially about handing them over to someone else for a major part of each day. This is the beginning of their time in the education system that will follow them up until adulthood. While you can’t be there to hold their hand through all of it, you can give your family the best chance at a smooth shift in routine.

Do your parental homework for the first day. Prepare your child for what is to come by making everything you can recognisable. Part of the daily routine may involve who will be dropping them off and picking them up from school. Knowing this part of the routine is helpful and comforting for a child. If you can, tour the school together, find out their classroom and possibly meet the teacher. 

Reminding your child of what their teacher’s name is and where they are going is something you can practice with your child to ease those first day jitters. Even driving by and pointing out the school can make it easier for a child to handle the first day and it’s a great excuse to get them excited as well.

Speaking of making things recognisable, label anything and everything you can get your hands on. Children have the ability to magically lose anything in a matter of seconds, leaving the house fully equipped and coming home empty handed. 

Simple mistakes

The popular princess or superhero plastered over your child’s book bag, lunchbox and pencil case may be a duplicate of eight or nine others in the same class. Try to teach them how to recognise their name beforehand, but if your child can’t read their name, place a sticker, ribbon, key chain or anything to distinguish it from the rest. That way when they are rushing for their pick up, simple mistakes won’t be made.

As for uniforms, you should be sure to label those as well on the tag or with iron-on labels. Even down to the socks as those can be tossed aside at any moment in a chase around the play-ground. Keep a spare set of every article handy in case something disappears or becomes distinctly stained. This allows time to get a replacement without the panic of rushing to the shop that night. Velcro shoes will be your best friend as they allow your child to easily put them on and take them off by themselves. Label these as well on the inside with permanent marker for when they are kicked off for circle time and mixed with a hundred other tiny shoes.

Save some time in the mornings by teaching your child how to put on their uniform by themselves. Although they may not be able to button, zip and buckle everything themselves, even the smallest thing can be the biggest help on a rushed Monday morning. 

Allow them time to practice by setting out their clothes a few weeks before school begins. A little independence goes a long way even if it is just a button short of perfection. While you’re teaching them how to get dressed, use this time as well to make sure that your child is able to use the bathroom by themselves. Not only in unbuttoning and buttoning their pants, but that it is always okay to ask the teacher to use the toilet. Being able to ask and go on their own is a major step in school that will really help the teacher and in trying to prevent accidents. However, know that if an accident does happen that your child is not the first or last to do so and it should be dealt with swiftly and privately by their teacher. 

Hygiene

Explain to them the importance of hand washing as well and how to properly do so. Kids pick up many illnesses from schools due to close contact with one another and poor hygiene. Though this is inevitable, stressing the importance of quality hygiene can help to combat some of it.

Along with the early mornings of getting ready, come the early bedtimes. As your child comes home from a full day at school, they will probably be more tired than usual when they return home. With a good night’s sleep behind them, meltdowns and tantrums should be less likely when they get home. 

Get in the habit of a good night’s sleep before summer is over by slowing inching back bedtime. This way when it comes to the night before the big day, your child won’t be surprised at having to go to bed an hour or two earlier.

When it comes to a lunchtime routine, use the weeks before to insert some healthy eating habits that most schools are trying to teach. Pack up a lunch and snack in their lunch box to practice opening and closing it properly. Distinguish for them what is used for the little break ‘snack time’ and the big break ‘lunch’ if this isn’t a part of your routine at home. Be sure to pack food that is easily opened, peeled, etc. 

Once the uniform is ready, the routine is starting to fall into place and your child is getting familiar with where they are going, it’s time to pick out the fun stuff. Get your child excited for the school year by including them in buying their supplies. Take a day and shop for their favourite crayons, folder and school bags. Talk to them about what they may be used for and all the fun and exciting things they’ll learn at school.

Generally, communication with your child is vital at this point in time. You should try to manage their anxiety and questions as best you can so they have solutions when you aren’t around. Remind them that their teacher and the school staff are there to help them as well and not to be afraid of asking questions. Teach them the value of raising their hand in class and being respectful when the teacher is speaking. Some children may be extremely excited about this new experience while others shy away from it. Reassure them that you are there to support them and know that this attitude may change from day to day. 

The big day

When the big day finally arrives, be upbeat about the whole experience. Whether you anticipate them or not, emotions will run high, but you must keep them in check. If you seem anxious, your child will pick up on that and wonder if they should be feeling the same way. 

Trust in where you are sending them and they will be more trusting as well. If you’re a stickler for routine, try and say goodbye the same way every day so when it’s over (whether it’s a combination of hugs and kisses or something simple), your child knows it’s time to go. 

Don’t hang around at drop-off – the longer you stay, the harder it will be. If needed, find comfort from other parents who are going through the same thing as well.