The First Day Of School. A phrase that must be written like that, because it is such an important milestone for the child -and for the parents too.
School is the place where a child may spend more of his waking time than he does in his home, not counting sleep. It is the place where he will make and break friendships; where he will mould his character further – and decide upon his future.
School is the place where parents have little or no influence over the daily interaction of a child with his peers and superiors. They may try to tell him what to do and what to say – but when push comes to shove, he must face the music alone. Talk about performance anxiety!
Education and learning are stressful enough as it is – and combined with a cocktail of new emotion, rituals and situations, the trauma and strain felt by the child, who may not be prepared for them, increases. All too often, the promised fun and games take second place. What the child sees in Orientation Day is a nice, smiling teacher – not one who is worn to a frazzle by spilled water-colors and miniature wars over toys.
To top it all, the parents’ attitudes, and feelings of anxiety, guilt or fear may be subliminally transferred to the child, who assumes that being uprooted from his home environment into the alien one is somehow “his fault” for not being “good”.
Children must never be compared with others; they absorb skills at their own rate, using their innate learning styles. It is wrong to expect a child to conform to a set of milestones, at such a tender aged. Moreover, different children bring different skills, at different levels, to the same class. Some children barely know how to put their shoes on the right feet – others can tie their laces into a perfect bow. Some may not even know numbers exist, whereas others can count to 100.
Psychotherapist David Grillo explains it in this manner:
One of the best things about staring a child off with playschool or kindergarten or pres-school is that they are not thrown in at the deep end. The fact that they don’t have to take notebooks and stuff eases them gently into the world of learning.
For some kids, especially those who fall under the youngest age bracket, the first few days can be traumatic. It is the first time that they separate for a ‘long’ periodfrom the parents. Separation anxiety is normal, and is also a part of growing up. But supporting them and ensuring that the parents, or someone with whom they identify, are home when they come back will help. It is also a good idea for both parents and not one to accompany the child to the door the first time.
These days, most teachers or kindergarten assistants are very well trained. And that makes a lot of difference.
Preparing a child for school psychologically goes hand-in-glove with the mundane preparations of uniforms (if applicable). Getting this must be a ‘special event’, with an emphasis on ‘school clothes for children who are no longer babies.’
If possible, take him with you too when you purchase his painting tabard, his lunch box, napkins and enough socks to have a clean pair each day. This is not the moment to worry that your child is gifted and will be “kept back” by the hoi polloi. That comes later.
- Some children like to be alone with the person who is taking them to school, for the journey there. Others would prefer to be with a peer. See what works best for your child and take it from there. If the child has to take the school van, because of distances or time constraints, make sure to prepare him for this.
- Never cajole a child into behaving like a “big boy” (i.e. ‘no tears’) because the “others” will laugh at him. This puts him on the defensive. Say, instead, that you are proud of him for actually being a good boy, even if he is bawling his eyes out.
- Gradually change the child’s routine so that a week before school begins, he will be getting up and going to bed at approximately the times he will be doing when school commences. This gets him used to the routine.
- Tell the child inasmuch as he is able to comprehend, that it is normal to have butterflies when starting a new school moving to a new house, or starting an new job. The idea is to get he butterflies flying in formation.
- Getting to school should not be rush-scuttle-dash-sprint. The child can set his own alarm clock and fold his clothes neatly over the back of the chair, and make sure any stationery needed is in his bag, on the eve of each school day.
- If you have to refer to your own childhood experiences, make sure the child cannot read anything negative in your attitude or tone of voice.
- If the child’s school requires a packed lunch, allow the child to select what he wants to eat, and perhaps to help prepare it.
Angele Licari, psychologist, has this to say about the above:
Firstly check if you, as a parent, are psychologically prepared for your child to be leaving home to start school. I would sooner begin with preparing the parents, and not the child about the loss and attachment issues affecting both.
If you have any anxieties of your own, these can be non-verbally be transmitted to the child and become his own. If your own move to school as a child was tarnished with any negative connections, then you might assume the child would be passing through the same experiences, thus finding it hard to let go in a healthy way. Come to terms with your own un-finished past.
Every so often, check how your child interacts with other children. Check if he is clingy, jealous, rough, intimidated, insecure, or perhaps too confident, and how s/he behaves towards others in general. Consider whether the source for negative behaviors is sibling rivalry; or having a younger sibling who is allowed to stay home whilst s/he is being sent to school. Address these matters before they escalate and compound the child’s stress.
Go through the daily routine with your child so that he can visualize what school means, while at home. You can help him understand that how he leaves home, (transport etc), what things he might be doing throughout the day at school, (games, reading, playing, etc), that he would be brought back home or picked up. This is especially important. It will help him feel he can cope with new things as a matter of course.
Discuss openly how you feel; ask your child how s/he feels about the whole thing. You can say that you will miss him but that you are happy that he will now be learning new things and enjoying the company of his friends. You can ask whether he has any thoughts about the whole experience.
In a matter-of-fact way, without any drama, remind the child that if there is anything with which he cannot cope, the teacher is replacing the parent or carers during school time, until he come back to ‘home sweet home’.
Some schools allow parents to stay in the building for an hour or two during the first weeks of school, just in case anything untoward happens. Ironically, this sometimes makes the parents feel more bereft than ever; it’s as if they are extraneous – because since the child has not thrown a wobbly, it must mean that he has “forgotten all about them”.