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Your Child's First Day at School

Most of us remember our first day at school, so here are a few tips to ensure it goes smoothly for you and your child.

Visit School in advance

Many schools have an Open Day where children can visit the school before September. They meet the teacher and new classmates. Your child may have already done this but due to COVID this is unlikely so, if not, be sure to visit the grounds of the school in advance of the ‘big day’. If you know someone else starting, arrange to meet parent and child in the park before September. Then your child arrives at the school yard to a familiar face and perhaps someone to sit with. I did this with my child and she asked me to leave!

The First Days of School

However, I did not handle my eldest child’s first Montessori day as well. Her anxiety and my nervousness made it more difficult.  Looking back I can see that the teacher was experienced and needed an opportunity to settle her without my presence. The longer we delay the more the anxious the child can become. Most children settle quickly. Learn from my mistake and know when to leave, timing is crucial! Children can pick up your anxieties. Teachers say it’s often the parent’s anxiety that makes things worse!

Let your child know you are confident that they can manage. ‘Ann, I know you will be fine and I can’t wait to hear all about it later’. Be calm and reassuring for the child to feel secure enough to separate from you. Then go as dawdling will only make matters worse.

Preparation for the First Day

Anxiety can come from not knowing what to expect; therefore talk about what your child can expect when starting school. Be relaxed, reassuring and positive with them. Encourage independence around dressing and toileting; practice opening their school bag and lunch box all help these early days. If this is left to a day or two before school starts, it is too late. A child’s fears will arise from not knowing, therefore chat through the new things that will happen and reassure them that everything will be all right.

First Days of School Tips:

If your child cries when you leave them, do not panic. The teacher will advise you what to do and is very experienced. Never ever disappear; always tell your child you are going and that you will be back. It is hard to leave but go and ask to be informed when your child has settled.  You will be surprised how quickly they recover with the distraction of other children. Usually tears last between five to ten minutes for the first day or two. Certainly within a week you should find your child has settled. A final word: be early at pick up time as it is very stressful for a child not to see the parent immediately. Tell your child you are taking them for a juice after collection so they have something special to look forward to. Lots of reassurance and love helps in the early days.

Your child’s First Day of School

If it is your first child starting school, you may be kept busy with smaller children, but when your last child starts school it can be emotional for a parent. Think in advance about this, are you going to increase your work hours, or indeed return to work? Perhaps, you have an opportunity to take up a hobby or interest. Join a club, or a class that interests you. Joining a School Committee offers support and valuable contacts in the years ahead.

In Advance of First day Tips:

  • Talk through the new routine in advance
  • Visit the school in advance
  • Pull back bedtimes/getting up earlier a week before
  • Make it easy for your child: Velcro runners, no tights, elasticised waists
  • Label everything
  • Get your child into uniform before the big day
  • Easy to open lunch box & shoulder strap bag
  • Order subsidised milk through school; it’s healthy & no bag spills
  • Keep drinks in a plastic bag in the outside pouch.

    On the Day:

  • Bed early, up early, be organised with uniform/shoes ready
  • Box of raisins or 10 grapes for ‘little break’
  • Small lunch for ‘big break’, with quartered sandwich
  • Leave lots of time to get to school
  • Relax and don’t fuss in the classroom
  • The calmer you are, the calmer they will be
  • If they are happy, don’t look for problems
  • If there are tears, be led by the teachers expertise
  • Remember, teacher will advise if child is not settling
  • Do not overstay on the first day; 3-5 minutes is enough
  • Allow extra time the first week as hurrying creates stress for all
  • Tell your child you are going and that you will be back
  • Meet a friend for coffee on the first day as it’s emotional for you too!
  • Be early for pick up, or it is very stressful for a child
  • Bed early, up earlier, be organised = Calm mornings!

This article was written by Sheila O Malley. Sheila owns Practical Parenting and offers courses, 1 to 1 support and School Talks as well as Company talks on Parenting and wellbeing. See for details. Book a One Day Saturday course from 10-4pm with a friend or partner and get the tips to need to support you in the hardest job you ever do!