Last week many parents around the country were united by one thing.  The dreaded wait for confirmation of your child’s school place.  I was one of those parents constantly hitting refresh in my inbox but not with quite the same level of anxiety as some.  I have two boys, one of whom started school 4 years ago, so I’ve been through this before and there was very little chance we wouldn’t get the school of our choice with his brother already there. However, I do remember the anxious wait four years ago and I very much remember the stress inducing months that followed as we prepared him and indeed ourselves for school life.

Starting school is one of the biggest milestones in your child’s life.  Your own too.  Starting school can, for some, feel like a very scary and overwhelming event.  Anything a little unknown can be.  As a parent, our job is to try to alleviate as much of that anxiety as possible.  Which is a daunting task because we are feeling it too!

From personal experience, I can say that schools (and preschools) are very good at helping us manage this big event.   You and your child will have several settling in sessions during the summer term preceding their start in September.  My own son had two sessions organised by his preschool and new school, one accompanied by one of his preschool teachers and one where he and other children were taken by the preschool, left for an hour and then taken back to preschool. He had three sessions organised by the school themselves, two of which I attended and one where I took him, left him for an hour and a half and picked him up later.  We were invited to the school summer fair and included in the last newsletter of the school year.  From speaking to many other parents, most schools follow very similar patterns.  It’s a great way to help you feel welcomed and increase your child’s (and your own) confidence around this new chapter in your lives.

As someone who has “done this before” I can offer the following “tips” and pieces of “advice”.

  • Practice your journey to school several times before the event.  In all likelihood, with all the trial sessions, you will do this anyway, but I found it useful to do the journey a few times as an activity during the summer holidays.  However you are going to do it, walk, bike, car, do it a few times, point out landmarks, make it something you are all used to.  It’ll be less daunting, more “the norm”.

  • Talk to a couple of other parents at the settling in sessions.  Even if it’s just “Hello, I’m X, Y’s Mum”.  It’ll break the ice and you’ll hopefully have someone else to grin manically and tearfully at when you first drop off in September.

  • Find out if your child already knows any other children who will be attending.  This is a great one for reassuring them with.  Safety and confidence in numbers!  If they don’t already know anyone, this is where that “breaking the ice” chat will come in handy.

  • Try uniform on before the big day.  And don’t buy it too many months in advance in case of growth spurts! Many kids can’t wait to get their uniform on anyway but some aren’t keen.  It’ll get them used to the look and feel of it.  Most modern uniforms are pretty non restrictive and comfy but they may be a little out of the ordinary.

  • Get your child to practice dressing themselves as often as possible.  Trying the uniform on for one thing, but any clothing will do.  Buttons, zips, pulling things up and down, over heads, it’s surprisingly tricky and, let’s face it, many of us go for the “easy option” of chasing them around and dressing them ourselves… But, they will have P.E. lessons and a teacher can only help with so much.  It’ll help their confidence if they have an idea of how to get that top on.  Though do expect some amusing outfit combos when you pick them up on P.E. day…

  • Don’t panic.  Take it from one who’s been there.  One day you’ll look back at that first day of school and it’ll be a blur.  Don’t worry if they don’t know anyone, they’ll soon make a buddy.  Friendships at this age are so fluid.  They change constantly.  Try and keep your anxieties away from your child as much as possible.  That’s what your partner, family and friends are for.  Speak to your child about how they are feeling.  Tell them about your own first day at school.  Normalise it for them. Take a deep breath, it’ll all be OK.