New School? No Problem! First Day of School Sorted!

New School? No Problem! First Day of School Sorted!

Starting Nursery, Reception, Primary and Secondary school or changing schools can be an anxious transition for some children (and their parents) for many varying reasons and can be quite daunting and scary for a child as there are so many new experiences such as new teachers, friends, classrooms and routines. Although many parents are relieved to see their children going back to school after the six weeks summer holidays, for some parents, the first day of school leaves them feeling just as, if not even more anxious than their child may feel.

Your child is bound to have mixed feelings about going to school but if you’re dreading it, they’ll pick up on this. It’s important to avoid these negative feelings becoming their own feelings about the experience so instead, try making them feel like starting school is a wonderfully positive thing.

Present the new experience and change positively like this:

  • You’ll make new friends;
    Say how easy it will be to make new friends at school but ensure you don’t overwhelm them by telling them there will be ‘loads’ of children at school, that could be off-putting to some children. Instead, focus on your positive experiences of meeting friends at school and what that means – someone new to play with, fun and games etc.
  • Your teacher will help you learn lots of new things;
    Explain that teachers know some different things from parents and that it’s great to learn those new things with them. If your child loves to read books or have books read to them, focus on this. If your child likes to draw and create things, focus on that instead.
  • You’ll be able to come home and teach me new things!
    Children love to feel they’re helping and teaching grown-ups, so make the most of that. Follow through by asking them every day what they learned at school to reinforce this point.

The start of a school should be something your child is looking forward to, something they anticipate rather than dread. Try to start a positive countdown to their first day by:

  • Buying new uniform/school clothes;
    This should be exciting for your child. Get them to help you make a list of what they need, then go with you to pick out the new school clothes. Have a trying on session and take some pictures. Show your child and praise them for how smart they look. Show grandparents and friends too and get them to give your child praise so that they can also reinforce those positive feelings.
  • Walk or drive the route to school;
    Most infant or primary schools have a programme of visits for new pupils, so your child may well have been inside the school and met their new teacher already. If you take them on the route and tell them that this is how they’ll be getting to school every day, and that you’ll be picking them up at a certain time, they’ll start to visualise the experience and it won’t seem as scary then.
  • Mark the date on your calendar with positive icons
    Use stars or images your child likes to make them smile and look forward to the date.

If you know other parents whose children will be starting the school at the same time, perhaps you could introduce your youngsters over the summer so they will see a friendly face when they start in September. If not, perhaps you could see if you could find parents in the same situation on Facebook or Twitter – and get to know one another.

Here are some further Top T.I.P.S you can use to help you child make a positive start to school:

Early Years / Primary School

  • If your child is starting a new school, arrange for you both to visit the school and meet the teacher. This provides a great opportunity for your child to see the classroom, play with some of the toys as well as familiarise themselves with the overall layout.
  • Ask the class teacher to write down the main routines of the day so that you can talk to your child about them at home, for example where to hang coats, what happens during snack time and what time school finishes.
  • Talk to your child about the type of activities and routines he/she will be taking part in during the school day, for example playing in the sandpit/outside area, painting in the art corner or reading in the library area.
  • Go to the library and find books to read together about what it’s like to start a new school.
  • Invite your child’s friends over for tea so they can talk about all the exciting activities they’ll be taking part in in the new school. Your child will also feel more confident knowing who goes to the same school.
  • If your child is still concerned about starting school, if you have the opportunity, walk past the school during playtime so that your child can see the children playing and enjoying themselves.

Secondary School

For children starting secondary school it is only natural that they’ll have anxieties and concerns to deal with and overcome. They will also experience many changes ranging from the overall size of the school, number of classes, teachers for different subjects and more school work. Use these Top T.I.P.S to help make their school transition as easy as possible:

  • Take time to drive, walk or catch the bus with your child so that they are familiar with the route to and from school.
  • Help to prepare and remind your child of the school routines, for example how much dinner money to take, what time school starts and finishes, what equipment they will need.
  • A week before school starts implement a good routine with your child. Set a curfew time to ensure your child has time to prepare and organise clothes for the following day etc. A bedtime routine is also important for a good night sleep so that your child can get out of bed the following morning feeling refreshed and ready for school.
  • Friendship groups are also very important, especially for older children, so it is a good idea to help your child re-connect with their friends by inviting them over for food or activities so they can talk about all the exciting activities they’ve taken part in during the summer holidays, all the fun stuff they’ll be doing in the forthcoming school year and any concerns that they have.
  • Remember to listen to your child and acknowledge any anxieties so you can help reassure them that other children will be experiencing similar feelings. Also look out for signs of stress, for example disturbed sleep, lack of appetite, reduced concentration and remind your child that you are there to support and listen to any concerns they have.
  • After a few weeks of school, if your child is having further concerns about school such as finding some of the work too hard, you can devise a plan to tackle the issue by arranging a meeting with the teacher, establishing the area of work your child is having difficulty with and subsequently working on that area with your child for 10-15 minutes after school to help improve their understanding.
  • It may also be helpful for you as a parent to observe your child and make a note of when they become anxious. Is it when walking to school, catching the school bus, or at the school gates? Then ask yourself the question why? By doing this you can help them overcome their anxiety. For example, if your child becomes anxious at the school gates because they don’t want you to go, reassure them that you will be meeting them at the end of the day or give them something to remind them of you, like a photo, which will help focus them during the school day.

 Looking for more specific advice?

See our Question & Answer session below from concerned parents:

My son was bullied quite badly last year. It was sorted out by the end of the year, but he is getting apprehensive in case it is going to start again, is there anything I can do to help him?

Starting school after being bullied is not easy and can cause a degree of anxiety for both you and your son. It is important to offer support and guidance for your child to overcome these concerns, below are a few tips:

Tip 1: Listen to your son and acknowledge any anxieties he may have. If/when he shares his concerns, break it down into manageable pieces. For example, if your son is concerned about being on his own during lunchtime ask him to think of friends he can buddy up with.

Tip 2: Friendship groups are very important. Help your son re-connect with friends by inviting them over so they can talk about school, sports, activities and share any concerns they may have.

Tip 3: Build up your son’s confidence by emphasising his strengths, skills, etc. Support him in finding activities he enjoys as these will help develop self-confidence.

My children have had a brilliant summer holidays, but they have been going to bed late and getting up late. When should I start the school routine to get them ready for the start of term?

Start the bedtime routine at least a week before schools starts. Children thrive on consistency and routine and by repeating the same steps in the same way at the same time each night will benefit them greatly. Her are a few tips:

Tip 1: It is important your children are not over stimulated before bedtime. Make sure that all activities are finished at least one hour before bedtime to enable them plenty of time to relax and unwind. Don’t allow your children to fall asleep in front on the TV as this could prevent them from having a good night sleep.

Tip 2: It is important to give your children time to finish what they are doing before asking them to get ready for bed. Let them know they have ten minutes then five minutes before they need to get ready.

Tip 3: Implement a good bedtime routine as this will create a good sleeping habit for your children. For example 8.30pm ask them to put on their pyjamas, brush their teeth, then get into bed and read you a story. 9.00pm dim the lights and kiss all goodnight.

Help! My little boy has moved schools and he’s struggling to make new friends. He comes home really upset because no one seems to want to play with him.

Friends not only provide companionship, but they are also fundamentally important to a child’s development. Therefore forming good friendships with others is invaluable otherwise school can be seen as a very stressful and unappealing place which could lead to absenteeism or other unwanted behaviour.

For your son to make new friends suggest the following to his teacher:

  • Put him into a friendship group.
  • Sit him next to someone who has similar interests/personality.
  • Pair him up with another child to carry out a daily class job, for example looking after the class hamster.

Following this suggest ‘play dates’ to other parents/carers when he can invite the new friend home to take part in common interests, for example, playing on a games console or taking part in a craft activity.

My 7 year old son has become obsessed with the way he looks; his clothes, his shoes and his hair have to be just a certain way. If the slightest thing isn’t quite right a tantrum occurs with many tears. He has on occasion refused to leave the house because he feels he doesn’t look right. Lorraine

There is nothing wrong with your child taking pride in his appearance although if something isn’t quite right and he has a tantrum then we need to establish the reason why. Firstly have a chat with his teacher and establish what his behaviour is like in school. Find out if he’s getting bullied for not wearing the ‘right’ shoes or not having the ‘right’ haircut. Has he recently been though something which has affected his feelings of self-esteem and confidence i.e. didn’t get chosen for the football team?

How children perceive themselves affects their motivation, attitude and behaviour. It is therefore important that your child feels accepted and cared for by both adults and his peers. Here are a few tips:

Tip 1: Design a feelings diary and ask your son to record when he is feeling happy, sad, upset, angry or frustrated. It is important to ask him what happened to make him feel angry, happy, etc., as this will help him to identify the triggers and develop coping strategies.

Tip 2: Display around your home lots of photos of your son and his achievements i.e. athletics trophy, painting from school. Ask him how he feels when he looks at them and let him know you’re proud of him.

Tip 3: Focus on his strengths and not his weaknesses by letting him know he’s a wonderful little boy who always puts in his best efforts.

Tip 4: Let him know it’s ok to make mistakes and it’s ok if we don’t look perfect all the time, try showing him some photos of famous footballers when they’re dressed up and dressed down.

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