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A survival guide to starting ‘Big School’!

A survival guide to starting ‘Big School’!


Starting school can be an exciting, positive and joyous time for some. However for others, the adventures of starting big school can be daunting, overwhelming and not the happy time that was expected. You may have prepared your child well for the transition to big school by making it familiar to them and getting them into a good routine. Your child may have loved school orientation, excitedly shopped for their school supplies, enjoyed practicing eating out of their lunch box and danced around the house in their new school uniform. But what if this changes once your child starts school? What happens when your once excited child starts to cry at school drop off, say they feel sick, clings to you like a Koala, or even refuses to go to school? What does this mean for your child…….and you???

If this sounds familiar to you, then I want you to know that you are not alone. It is normal for children to fear the unknown and stress about leaving the secure and nurturing home environment and most importantly their parent/s or caregivers.

It is called ‘Separation Anxiety’ and many children experience this when starting school. Some children have it from day one whilst others may develop it after a few weeks. Some have it for a few weeks, some for just a few days.

Let’s look at the big picture……….

It is important to remember that school is a new environment, with new rules and expectations, it’s filled with unfamiliar faces, the playground is huge, the day is long, the work is challenging and the toilet block is a long way away…….Phew! Sounds scary don’t you think? As parents I think it’s important to sometimes put yourself in your child’s shoes, to help understand what they are thinking and feeling.

For instance, imagine starting a new job? It’s a new environment, with a new boss who Success-kid-just-started-new-job-190
has different expectations, the office is filled with unfamiliar faces, the day is long, the work is new and challenging! Again, sounds scary don’t you think? As adults we too can get nervous and anxious in a new environment, but most of us have the emotional maturity and intelligence to rationalize our feelings and calm ourselves so that we can settle into our new role efficiently.

We can call a supportive friend or partner during the day to debrief and bolster our spirits and due to life experience, we just know that things will feel better with time. Our little ones don’t have this life experience or maturity and may need our help to adjust.

Transition tips for you and your child………..

First and foremost it is imperative that your little munchkin see’s YOU as a calm and
consistent source of support. This might be an emotionally challenging time for you too (no-one likes seeing their child upset), but if you can follow these suggestions, chances are you will be using the ‘kiss and drop’ method sooner rather than later!

1. Pack a piece of home into their school bag – put a familiar item from home belonging to them self or mum!

2. Avoid the morning rush – pack bags the night before and get uniforms ready!

3. Create Charts for getting ready in the morning – Get dressed, comb hair, make bed, eat breakfast, brush teeth, put on shoes, grab your backpack — and out the door! – Use images and words!

4. Set timer or play some tunes to teach time management when getting ready!

5. Use role play – act out what to do if you have to go to the bathroom during class, if you want to ask the teacher a question or what to do if another child is teasing you!

6. Use a calendar to show them the days of the week V’s the weekend!

7. Develop a consistent morning and evening routine – go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time!

8. Get dressed before breakfast!

9. Pack similar snacks and lunches each day – let your child choose what they want the night before!

10. Explain the drop off procedure so they know what to expect!

11. Don’t hang around at school or prolong the goodbyes!

12. Don’t leave without saying goodbye!

13. Even if your child starts crying, don’t linger because it will make it worse. (Don’t you cry until you’re out of sight!)!

14. Avoid major lifestyle changes and too many extra curricular activities in the first term of starting school – by week 5 most kids are exhausted!

15. Pick your child up on time and choose a regular meeting spot together!

16. Have a special after-school snack and chat!

17. Use what your kid loves as a reward – EG: getting ready on time and without fuss = TV, computer, ipad!

18. Create a special goodbye ritual to signify that its time for you to go. EG: a silly handshake or phrase like. , “See ya later alligator”!

19. Validate your child’s emotions – tell them it’s OK to feel nervous and worried and give examples of when you felt the same!

20. Make ‘school’ a dinnertime subject and encourage kids to talk about what they’re feeling!

21. Celebrate the first day, week and/or month of school as a huge milestone they have achieved – do a special activity or cook a special dinner!

22. Your child might be grumpy and tired for the first few weeks. If tantrums or bad behaviour escalates, validate how they are feeling but remind them that it is not an excuse to misbehave!

23. Work with your child’s teacher! Most teachers are happy to escort children into class and help you to leave!

24. Keep in touch with the teacher to check how they are during the day and if they are settling quicker as the weeks roll on.

Final Note – If your child’s anxiety about school continues to cause them significant distress, and impairs their social, academic, and daily functioning, for one month or more, it is advised that you speak with a psychologist to further investigate and tailor strategies to suit your child’s individual needs.

cartoon-school-kids-in-uniform By Lainie Opitz (Child and Family Psychologist) – 29/01/2016