Starting school – how to beat those first-day-of-school nerves!

The holidays are coming to an end and the first day of school is looming. For most parents, this is a day that holds a mixture of excitement and anxiety. If your kids are like mine, they’ve probably been sleeping in their uniforms and packing and re-packing their school bag for a few weeks now.

The first day of school is a big step in a child’s life. It signifies the end of their babyhood, and may be the first time that they will be away from you for such a long period. They need to learn how to concentrate, be responsible and not lose their things; and most importantly, become independent. That’s even before they start to learn how to read and write!

There is a lot for a little person to remember, so here are a few tips:

  • Before the first day, explain what will happen on the day. Even though they have had orientation days and they may have been told, make sure they know how the day will unfold. Tell them it’s ok to be a bit nervous and that you felt the same when you started school. Lots of talking about it can help to make the first day less scary.
  • Make sure your child has had a go at packing their lunch box, and that they know what to eat for recess and what to eat for lunch. You don’t want them staving at lunchtime because all the food is gone! Let them have a few practice runs at home and start to choose what they may like to take.
  • Try not to over-pack their lunch box as they can’t eat it all and it will just come home. Packing a delicious and healthy lunch box can seem overwhelming, especially if your child is fussy, but try to have a sandwich or wrap, some fresh fruit and low-sugar snacks with minimal wrapping such as rice crackers, popcorn, cheese sticks or yogurt squeezies. You can put in a little ice brick to keep everything cool on very hot days.
  • Remind your child to drink water – one of the most common reasons kids get headaches is because they aren’t drinking enough throughout the day.
  • Once you’ve walked them to their classroom and seen them inside, say good-bye and don’t linger. Leave quickly. This is the hardest thing to do because you are unsure if they are ok and want to support them, but staying actually makes it harder. There may be tears, but the teacher will call you if they don’t settle and they almost always do.
  • Remember, they’ll get very tired in the first term so don’t schedule more than one after-school activity, or preferably none if you can help it. By the end of the day they are shattered and just want to go home and be in their own space.
  • Try not to stress about whether they had a friend to play with at recess or lunchtime – they may be overwhelmed and not find a friend for the first few days or weeks. It can take time, and if necessary the teacher will find someone for them to run outside with if they’re looking a bit lost at the start of playtime.
  • Put something bright and fun on their school bag so that they know which one is theirs. My kids love the little Beanie Boos or the new emoji characters; even just a colorful ribbon would do.

And a few tips for you that have been great for me:

  • Keep your schedules handy. I have always struggled to keep on top of all the upcoming events at school and important dates for my four kids – keep a calendar in the kitchen (try to find one with a separate column for each member of the family) or a folder for their new class lists etc. That way you can easily contact other parents when they want their first play date! It’s fun to do this with them and let them know what’s coming up.
  • A lovely way to interact with your child at school is to volunteer at the canteen or to become a classroom helper – this is still one of my favourite things to do. My kids love seeing me in the classroom or behind the counter in the canteen. Also, helping in the classroom gives you a greater understanding of how your child is going and what they are doing.

So, good luck! It’s both an exciting and anxious time, but hopefully will be the start of many happy years at school. In future blogs I’ll talk about the joys of head lice and other school nasties to watch out for. Stay tuned!

How did your kids manage their first day of school? Do you have some tips to share with other parents?

Please note: Dr Margie is no longer monitoring questions on this blog. If you are worried about your child, please speak with your GP.

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