The first day of school is one of the major hallmarks in your child’s life. Make it a day both of you will cherish in the future.
By Dr Vihan Sanyal
Your firstborn is ready to start school and you worry how he or she is going to cope in a new environment. You are consumed with fears of another child being mean to them, whether they would eat when not in your presence or even, what if they need to go to the toilet and are too shy to ask the teacher? As a result, you watch the clock till it’s time to pick up the child from school, reaching long before it closes, impatiently marching up and down at the school gate, eager to get a glimpse of your child. Your behaviour can be compared with that of parents whose children are returning from war! You may feel as if it has been decades since you have seen your child.
These are some common behaviour traits of parents who have not mentally prepared themselves for this day. It is very easy to transfer the nervous energy felt by parents onto their children. This is likely to make your children less resilient and can hamper their level of confidence in facing the world alone.
So, what can parents do to be better prepared for the first day of school of their child?
The first day of school does not need to be a traumatic event for you or for your child. Here are a few things you can do to help yourself cope with the day better:
The Future Exercise
Find a quiet spot a few days or weeks before the event in your home. Sit down and close your eyes. Now imagine accompanying your child on their first day to school. Imagine that everything is going according to plan, you are calm and in control. You are happy to be able to support your child through their anxiety of starting school. See yourself feeling proud of your child as they walk into the school grounds. Mentally wish them luck and happiness. Do this exercise at the same time every day. Take your time to complete this exercise (don’t rush through it). Do it with all your heart. You will be much better prepared when the actual day arrives.
Prepare a list of well thought out questions you would like addressed by the school. Pen down every apprehension you may have. Get answers to as many of your questions as possible. Intimate the school prior to your visit and ask for extra time. Tell them that you have a list of questions you would like answered by the school. Any school will be happy to give you the time and thank you for being well prepared with your list of questions, rather than calling them 10 times to get questions answered!
Introduce yourself to other parents, who have children of similar age as yours. Learn from each other’s experiences. Initiate a support group or join one which may have already been formed. Discuss about your inhibitions with other parents, but don’t let your thoughts be clouded by other people’s negative experiences. Take what’s positive and constructive. Leave what is negative and unproductive.
Take your child along with you to shop for their new pencil case, water-bottle, lunchbox, etc. Most children are excited with new school products. Give them a few options to choose from. Involve them in the process.
Talk to your child about the first day before it happens. Tell them that it’s going to be a fun day. Focus on the best parts of school life. Help your child to visualise it. Tell them how proud you are of them and how they are going to make their school better for other children too. A genuine pre-motivational talk coming from you will make a huge difference to you and to your child.
Socialise Your Child Early
Many parents in countries like America, Australia and the UK, introduce their kids to other kids while they are still babies. You will find parents with their babies in baby swimming pools introducing their kids to be comfortable with water and also with other children. Take your child to playgroups. Invite people with similar age children over to your home or visit them often. It is crucial that children learn social skills as early as possible. This is likely to make them less “clingy” and less frightened of starting school.
On the night before the day, ensure that you have kept everything your child needs to wear and take with them to school. It would also be a good idea for you to set aside the clothes you would be wearing ready. On the morning, wake up early. Give yourself time to relax and to enjoy the morning. Wake your child up early and let them enjoy the morning too. Drop your child to school yourself (they will need your support). Leave home extra early so that you don’t feel flustered due to time constraints.
Music & Laughter
On the morning of the first day, play some “happy” music. If your child has a song they like, then play that one. Do your best to keep yourself and your child’s mood happy and positive. Share some jokes while having breakfast or on the journey to school. If your child is cranky and upset, then be supportive. Listen to what they need to say and stay CALM. Your child needs to see a calm and controlled parent at this difficult moment of their life. The worst thing that you can do is to get angry with your child’s behaviour and yell at them or scold them.
One of the best tools to change a child’s mood is to deflect their sour mood onto something positive and less frustrating. As a parent, you know your child the best. You know their temperament. If you anticipate problems on the morning of the day, then keep a few things in mind which you can do to encourage your children to focus on things they are likely to enjoy. Carry their favourite time along, or play a mentally engaging game with them.
When you pick up your child from school, one of the first things a parent does is check their child’s lunch box (tiffin). Do not be alarmed to find a partially eaten snack or a completely untouched meal. If this happens, calmly and quietly open the box and show the item to your child. Hear their explanation and then simply tell them that you are disappointed and expect better from them. Do not scold your child or give them a lecture on food wastage. You don’t want to instill fear in them, rather let them see and feel your disappointment. Children will do anything to see their parents happy. Most children hate to see their parents sad. They always want to make their parents happy and to feel proud of them.
The first day of school is one of the major hallmarks in your child’s life. Make it special for them. Make it a day which both of you will cherish in the future. It is a day that can help strengthen your bond with your child. It is a day which can either make your child feel alone and neglected or feel supported and valued. The efforts you as a parent put into the event will ensure the outcome of the day.
(The writer is a psychotherapist.)