By Dr Sasha Lynn BPsych(Hons), DClinPsych, MAPS, MCCP
The first year your child starts school can feel like giving birth all over again. Before it happens, you have all these hopes and dreams for how your child will relish school, make lifelong friends and be accepted to both MENSA and the AIS by Prep. Then in the final couple of weeks before the big day you’re in the grips of intensity- getting all their school things ready, sorting out uniforms and wondering how the heck it’s going to work out. Bugger MENSA, you’re now just hoping they survive without eating the glue.
Before you know it, the big day is here. You marvel at your little cherub in all their uniform glory, complete with oversized shirt and big floppy hat. The other marvel you might not be prepared for is all the different things that can go on during that first year of school. Brace yourself.
You may have encountered it when they were two or three, but it can make a surprise re-appearance again with the start of school. Understandable, when you think about it. School is a whole new chapter in their lives. Class sizes are much bigger than anything they would be used to at their kindy or daycare centre. There are all these rules and regulations and big kids barrelling about the place.
The fix: Spend some time talking through with your child about what’s coming up at school. Go for walks around the school to help them become familiar with the place. Ask them to come up with three things they enjoy or are looking forward to at school each day to help them re-frame and learning some calm breathing tricks can be helpful.
Friendship squabbles and relationship changes
You’ve seen and heard them all before, but at school they can take on a whole new dimension. More kids, more whispers and rumours, and more bossing about. It can be hard for your child to negotiate multiple relationships all at once. And in that first year of school, friendships change almost as much as your child changes their underwear. Ok, probably more than they change their underwear because kids can be stinky. Parents, you too will be negotiating your own new relationships with other parents, and that can be emotionally taxing!
The fix: Role play with your child the different scenarios that are bothering them with friends, and problem solve together positive ways to sort it out. Resilience is a big thing when starting school, and home is a great place to start practicing.
Hold onto your hats, you’re unwittingly strapped in to the most erratic rollercoaster ride of your life. Only this rollercoaster involves manic happiness and excitement one minute, and hair-tearingly painful meltdowns the next. The first term is usually the hardest, for all parties. Your child may fall asleep at 5:30pm, they may become hysterical for no apparent reason, or they may just be a grumpy pants.
The fix: Talking about the expectations with your child, helping them to wind down after a big day of school, and keeping a clear and consistent routine at home of an evening can help take the sting out of big days.
Where’s Wally becomes a real-life game
While looking for a guy in a red and white shirt in a sea of people is fun, looking for a school hat in a sea of clothes, scrunched up papers and left over lunch snacks isn’t so fun. It seems to be a rite of passage for all little school people; you must lose your belongings, preferably multiple times and preferably at critical moments when they’re needed the most.
The fix: It’s a great chance to help your child learn about responsibility and consequences. Keeping items colour-coded can help, using name tags and working with your child to re-trace their steps. And if they do lose something, then it becomes their responsibility to find it.
The first year at school ‘busy’
It feels like time suddenly goes on warp speed when your child starts school. They’ve got homework, readers, excursions, art projects, sports days, swimming, uniform changes, science projects, discos, birthday parties ( x27. You’d better believe it), you name it. Add multiple family schedules on top and life gets busy. It can feel pretty stressful for everyone involved, and that can lead to short fuses and frazzled little people.
The fix: Organisation is key. Helping your child to keep a schedule, and teaching them to break things down into manageable chunks will be handy. Also scheduling in family fun time to counteract the busy does the world of good for everyone.
And the biggest thing about the first year of school? Watching your child transform into a confident, independent school kid. It’s exciting and tugs at the heart strings all at the same time. Enjoy the years, as they zoom by so fast. And remember there’s always support at the ready, for both you and your child if you need it at school.
Looking for school shoes for your child’s first year? Check out our article on choosing the best school shoes for your child.