The first day of school; anticipated and dreaded in equal measure by parents and children alike. Parents fear the changes will be too much for the child; cutting the apron strings is hard, and children simply fear what they do not know. When school is on the horizon it pays for parents to do a few simple things to help their child over the fear this change in lifestyle can bring.
Schools do their best to make the transition from pre-school and reception to ‘big school’ as painless as possible. This often includes allowing children to attend classes for a couple of hours each week to help them acclimatise. If this isn’t offered it is worth talking to teachers; ask if a child can attend for one morning session a week, toward the end of the summer (or winter, depending on intake schedules) term. This will help them get used to the differences a classroom environment brings to school life.
If a child has older siblings, there is a good chance they will have attended events at the school, from class plays to sports days. This gives a sense of what to expect and also demystifies this strange new world of classrooms and assembly halls. If a child is a singleton or the oldest in a family, talk to other parents at reception or pre-school. Ask if special friends, who will be transferring to ‘big school’ with them, can attend those early acclimatising sessions together. It is far easier to face something new and scary i there is a friend to go with.
Don’t lose sight of the very helpful reading materials which are available, specifically aimed at taking the ‘scary’ out of transferring to school. Books such as ‘Starting School’ by Janet and Allan Ahlberg is an enduring example of the genre, perfect for those going into school for the first time. Another wonderful first school days book is Mary Ann Rodman’s ‘First Grade Stinks’. This is spot on for any child who has been overwhelmed to the point where school does stink in their mind!
Above all, be positive, and ensure everyone around the child is positive too. Share tales of great and funny family school experiences and reassure fears as they come up. Scared of the busy lunch hall? Pick a group of friends and eat together. Scared the teacher will be mean? Introduce child to tutor before school starts, for reassurance. Scared of getting lost? Draw a map of the school, mark important places like toilets, classroom and food hall, and then tuck the map into a pocket or wristband for constant allaying of fears.
There is a solution to every fear, even if soothing them may take time and patience alongside experience.
It isn’t only first time children who have or develop fears associated with school. Bullying is a major problem and will instantly cause fear in the victims. According to DoSomething.org, 3.2 million students are bullied each year. 69% of all students in the UK are bullied. The fear is genuine and it is often down to the students themselves to deal with the situation as parents and teachers are reluctant to get involved (It’s estimated that teachers will intervene in only 4% of bullying cases).
Anti-bullying campaigns are spread across the internet and they are excellent places to get tips on how to deal with bullying, from physical, through verbal and into cyber-bullying. However, children need immediate reassurance that they can both come to and receive help from an adult if they become victims. Be open with your child and acknowledge bullying exists, that it can be scary and that there is a solution. Reassure the child that help is available and will be forthcoming; they must be certain they will be taken seriously.
Beat Bullying,org has an excellent range of resources available for teachers, children and parents, including cyber mentors, a Youtube channel and lesson plans. There is also a vast array of written material available which helps children see that they are not alone and that they will come out the other side. ‘Llama Llama and the Bully Goat’ is a good choice for younger children and ‘Stand Up for Yourself and your Friends’ suits an older age range.
Overall, parents and teachers have to reassure constantly, treat all fears with the respect they deserve and find simple ways to show the child that school really can be some of the best days ever.