Do you remember your first day at school?
I have to admit to having no memory of it at all. I think as parents we build it up and worry about it much more than the children do sometimes. I also think that whether they are starting in Primary School, changing school or starting High School many of the issues and things we can do to help will be very similar.
Anyway, my Son is going to start High School in September, so I’m thinking about some of the things we might do in order to prepare him (and us) for the change. I imagine that many of the things I am thinking of doing will also be relevant to people whose little ones are starting reception for the first time.
The other thing to mention, for those who might be here for the first time is that my Son has an autistic spectrum condition, which means that planning is essential for us, but, again, I’m sure that many of my ideas and things that are likely to help ease my Son’s anxiety might also be useful for other children. So without further ado, these are a few of my ideas:
1. Buy uniform now or as soon as possible. – Go out and buy the uniform, don’t leave it until the last-minute and everyone is stressed. Many shops have currently got multi-buy deals on and if you leave it too late you might find the shops have run out of some of the sizes. Once the uniform is bought you can get on with the next steps.
2. Name all the uniform. This takes me ages, and I find it soooo boring, but it’s so useful to have name tapes in clothes. I have done the quick option of simply writing on the labels, but over the years I have found the success rate of getting mislaid uniform returned is far higher with the items where they have name tapes than those where I just wrote on the label. – This is another reason for getting the uniform early as it gives you more time to name everything.
3. Purchase any equipment, lunch boxes, bags, stationary, calculators etc. as soon as possible. Again, this gives you plenty of time to name them all and then put them away until its time for school in September.
4. Managing children’s anxiety. For me this is the hardest one. My Son gets quite anxious about new situations. I’m sure most children do and they all have different ways of showing it. Again, for us the idea of buying all the equipment and uniform etc early has the advantage of getting it done. Once it is in my Son’s wardrobe or cupboards etc. and put away we can get on with enjoying the holidays and not having the constant looming worry of buying stuff for school as well as actually starting school.
5. Managing the comments and discussion. One of the things I remember from when B started primary school and what is beginning to happen again is that people will ask ‘is he excited?’ – I don’t know any parent who can honestly say that their child is excited without any sense of trepidation. This question does irritate me slightly. My boy is quite nervous, he’s not totally dreading the new school and has accepted it is going to happen. He is even quite happy that he knows the school, several of his friends are going, but I think the question about ‘excitement’ and an expectation that he is looking forward to it can be quite daunting. I’m sure I’m not the only parent who feels this way and that my Son is not unique in his views of changing / starting a new school.
So how to deal with these comments? I just play them down, I point out politely that it’s a hard thing to be excited about and that B is naturally a bit nervous, but has visited the school and seemed quite happy.
6. Preparing your child. Now it is the summer holidays most children will have visited their new schools before the holidays, they will have met the teachers etc, so the next step apart from gathering all the equipment, is to actually turn up on the first day. I do not engage in excessive conversation with my Son over the summer about his new school, new routines etc. He’s had those talks. Now is the time for the holiday. He needs a bit of time to try to switch off, to enjoy himself and to relax. I will answer any questions he has and will discuss school with him if he wants to, but I won’t go out of my way to raise the subject. Everyone’s child is different, but this is what works for us.
The only slight exception to this with my Son would be if I notice a marked change in his behaviour. With aspergers syndrome my Son has difficulty in expressing his emotions verbally and I can often tell that he is anxious or upset if his behaviour becomes more aggressive and angry or if he becomes withdrawn and ‘unwell’. In these situations I would try to calm him and talk to him about what is worrying him. If he is unable to tell me I might offer prompting questions, which this summer might be to ask how he feels about starting a new school.
7. New journeys. For us this isn’t an issue, but many children will be having to make their own way to school for the first time when they start secondary school. If this is the case then my suggestion would be to practice the route 2 or 3 times now or next week, then leave it and enjoy the summer and go back and do a quick recap with your Son or Daughter the weekend before school starts. If they have the confidence that they can do it now it may be one less thing they have to worry about over the summer.
8. If you know anyone who has already started at that school try to get some tips in the next week or so, there are always some things that would be useful to know that aren’t on the parents induction list. An example for us would be that my nephew started at the school where my Son is going last year. In his first week he came home and they were told that all their excercise books had to be covered with sticky backed plastic. This hadn’t been mentioned in any of the literature, so my Sister-in-Law had to dash out and find sticky back plastic.
9. Plan something nice to do at the end of the holiday. We are going on our anual holiday in the last 2 weeks because we felt it would give us something to look forward to during the summer and thought it might be a distraction from spending those last couple of weeks thinking about the looming change. If you can’t go away, or have already planned your holiday then may be plan another treat. A day out to somewhere special, have a friend over for a sleep-over or a arrange a little party or meal out. Just something to give a focus to plan other than school.
10. I couldn’t think of any more, but as lists usually go up to ten I thought you could add the last one!
These are the things I will be trying to do to help my Son. Do you have any other ideas for helping manage the starting school process? or are you a ‘go with the flow’ type? I’d love to hear your views.
Thanks for reading 🙂