Sometimes we are so anxious for our children to have a marvellous love affair with school, and we build it up to such a pitch, that the child cannot sleep or eat for a few days before starting. Fear of the unknown scares most adults, so imagine how much greater that fear is for a small child, who cannot reason or foresee what may lie ahead. In order to minimise any fears, it is good to treat the beginning of primary school as just another natural step in your child’s life.
Independence Promotes Confidence
To promote social and emotional maturity and to help make starting school an enjoyable experience, we suggest focusing on your child’s independence in the following ways:
- Encourage your child to put on and fasten their coat. Practise this lots of times at home. Do not rush or criticise if it is not perfect. Label the coat clearly, as many children have similar coats.
- If your child is unable to tie laces, Velcro fastenings are a great idea.
- A few days before school begins, try on the new uniform. Leave it on for a while. When they need to use the bathroom, do not help them and see if they can manage the school trousers or skirt on their own. You may find that belts are usually a hindrance – elasticated waists make it easier. Train them to wash their hands after using the toilet and to turn off the tap when they are finished. Children get distressed if they need help in the bathroom at school.
- Put a tissue or handkerchief in their pocket and make sure that they can use it.
- The less complicated the schoolbag, the better. Teach them to open and close it. Elaborate schoolbags, pencil cases and lunchboxes often cause tears in school. They are a huge distraction and children get very upset if they are damaged.
- Have a trial run at home with the lunchbox a few days beforehand. Sit with your child at the table and observe how they open the lunchbox, the wrapping on a sandwich, the banana or other fruit, the yoghurt and the drink. Resist the urge to help, and make any adjustments that you think are necessary.
A child’s communication skills will develop over time, but even at this early stage, following a few small tips can help your child enormously in the first days at school:
- Teach your child to give their first name and surname together when asked, as other children in the class may have the same first name.
- Try not to anticipate their requests. The teacher may not understand your child’s body language, so asking clearly is important.
Be Aware of your own Attitudes
We ask parents to examine their own memories of school. Each parent will have spent many years in the classroom and, for each person, the experience will have been different. Your child’s experience will be different too, as the educational system is constantly changing and developing. So try not to burden your child with your anxieties. Don’t say things like, ‘I hated school’, or ‘I did not like my teacher, but you will love yours’, because, by doing that, you are giving out conflicting messages to your child. If your personal experience of school was not a happy one, your child does not need to know. Children take their outlook on school from you so your positive attitude will influence your child and ensure that they start their journey full of confidence.
Read more practical suggestions in
Ready for School: A Parent’s Guide,
available from www.veritas.ie