Saturday 16 December 2017

Back to school: Why the first day is worse for parents than kids

How children react to school depends on how their parents have prepared them, so for all the nervous mammies and daddies out there - keep it to yourself

Laura Haugh and son James (5)
Laura Haugh and son James (5)
Croia (4) and mum Fionnuala
Rachel O'Riordan and her three children Jordan (17), Ashton (5) and Rian (8 months)

It may be hard to believe, but the summer is nearly over and children all over the country will soon be preparing for their first major milestone - the first day of school.

 It's undoubtedly an exciting occasion, but it can also be daunting for both the new pupils and their parents.

We spoke to two mothers about their concerns and also got some advice from experts on how to cope with the start of 'big school'.

Fionnuala McGuinness and her husband Sean have two children - Sean Junior (5) and Croia (4). Their daughter will be starting school in September and while everyone is excited at the prospect, there is also a little bit of sadness as the youngest child spreads her wings for the first time.

"I'm excited about Croia starting school but also a little sad as she is the baby in our house. She is really looking forward to it, so when the day comes, I will probably be delighted for her.

"She is an independent little thing and has done great at playschool so I'm sure she will take to school like a duck to water.

"Her brother Sean started last September and he loves school (which is a great example for her) and because it is a very small school, Croia will be going into the same classroom as Sean and they will be together for the first three years with the same teacher, so it will be lovely for her as she will have her big brother there to look after her.

"I will definitely be emotional saying goodbye on the first day but I'm a bit of a cry-baby. I even cry watching Coronation Street, so I'm sure there will be tears - but definitely not from Croia who is very excited and is just looking forward to getting a Frozen schoolbag and playing with all her new friends in the schoolyard."

Rachel O'Riordan and her three children Jordan (17), Ashton (5) and Rian (8 months)

Rachel O'Riordan and her three children Jordan (17), Ashton (5) and Rian (8 months)

Rachel O'Riordan is married to Kieran and has three children - Jordan (17), Ashton (5) and Rian (8 months). She runs her own business www.foreverfabulous.ie from home in Delgany, Co Wicklow and while she is happy for her second son to be starting school, she is also a little sad.

"I have mixed feelings about Ashton starting school as I hate the fact that he is growing up so fast but I'm happy that he is so excited and is really not one bit bothered.

"I also like the fact that we will no longer have any creche fees to pay.

"Ashton is our second son to start school but as there is a 12-year gap between him and Jordan, it feels like the first time again.

"I think the experience of the first day is always harder on the parents than the children but my only concern would be how well he makes the transition from creche to junior infants as it's a completely different atmosphere with new rules and homework.

"I would imagine I will cry on the day itself and Ashton will just take it in his stride - he is used to being in a classroom so will probably just tell me to leave.

"When I ask him what he thinks, he says he is looking forward to making new friends, being a big boy in a new school and walking there every morning - so I think he will be just fine."

Psychologist, Sharron Grainger says how children react to a new school environment is largely determined by how parents prepare them beforehand, so although you may be nervous, don't let your child become aware of your feelings.

"How you talk to your child about school will shape their perception, so think carefully," she advises. "It's important not to reinforce anxiety by telling your child that you will miss them when they go to school (even though this may be so true), as they may worry what you will do without them.

"So big-up the fun parts by talking to them about all the new friends they will make and let them know that they can have play-dates after school. Tell them about the activities you loved in school. By talking in this way, it may encourage your child to ask questions relating to things that they fear.

"Sometimes parents try to reassure their children that everything will be okay when in fact they are really reassuring themselves."

Wexford-based child psychologist, Peadar Maxwell, agrees, and says it is important to prepare children for school but not to go overboard with information or advice.

"For your new junior infant it is important to talk about school - not all of the time, of course - but over the summer and in the weeks leading up to the first day," he says.

"Try not to put your feelings of excitement or worry on your child. Bring him along with you to buy the supplies and clothing they'll need and chat about school.

"If your child has been to preschool then he will have an idea of what to expect, but if he hasn't then plan for some fun separation from you where other children are present."

Maxwell says there are a number of ways in which parents can make things easier on the big day:

• Walk or drive by the school beforehand to show your child where it is.

• On the first day, stay positive and make sure your child is comfortably situated before you cheerfully say goodbye.

• Don't feign sadness or worry even to be playful as your child may misread your message.

• If your child is somewhat anxious, give him something small from you or from home such as a photo or a key ring and remind him that you will be thinking of him and looking forward to hearing all about his day.

• Do reassure your child that you or their other parent will be waiting for him at the end of his time in school.

• If you anticipate that your child will be anxious at the start, arrange play-dates with perspective classmates that you know - having an ally is a great antidote to being anxious in a new situation.

• Think in advance about the skills they will need to develop further before junior infants, such as fixing their clothes if they become messy or undone, eating independently (unpacking their lunch for example) and using the toilet without assistance.


Rachel O'Riordan

laura haugh

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