The first day of school can be both exciting and daunting for children. A child may be filled with anticipation at the thought of starting the new school year and making new friends, but yet, also be worried about the unknown – “Who will my teacher be?”, “Will my classmates like me?”, or even “Can I cope with the school work?”. Helping your child to overcome their first day jitters can set them up for success in the year ahead.
#1 Listen to your child
One of the best gifts you can give your child is a listening ear. When your child shares their concerns and fears, do not dismiss their thoughts, no matter how outlandish or ridiculous they might seem. Instead, give them your full attention, and listen without making judgements. Resist the urge to immediately share your opinions on what they should do or how they should feel. You’ll find that the closer you listen to your child, the more likely you are to understand their point of view. It is also deeply reassuring for your child to know that their views are respected, and that they are unconditionally accepted by you. This in itself can lessen their anxiety.
One of the best gifts you can give your child is a listening ear.
#2 Ease into the transition
Not every child embraces change – in fact, many will need help easing into new situations (just like us adults!). Take proactive steps to help your child transition into the new school year. If your child is starting at a new school, make time to visit the compound and show them around, or attend the orientation programme if there is one. Talk to your child about what they can expect to experience in a typical school day. For example, you can describe how the teachers will come into the classroom for each lesson, and that the students will have a mid-morning break at the canteen where they can buy their own food or bring a packed meal from home. Talking through these specifics can help to allay your child’s worries, and also provide an opening for them to ask questions and clarify doubts with you.
Equip your child with basic school-readiness skills such as handling money, staying focused on tasks, turn-taking and asking questions in an appropriate way in class. This will give them the confidence they need to socialise in a school setting.
#3 Include school as part of your community
Help your child to see the school as part of his community, where he will receive learning, encouragement and support, and also a place where he can make a valuable contribution by helping others. Rather than simply telling my children this, I show them by being a parent volunteer myself. This has helped me to appreciate the school and its culture, and my children were able to do the same as I shared my experiences with them. Framing the school experience in this way helped to lessen their anxiety, and also made them feel empowered and confident in the classroom.
#4 Create new rituals
Despite your best efforts, your child may still have some lingering apprehension about heading to school. You can make this easier by giving them something to look forward to at the end of the school day – it may be a conversation over lunch at home, watching a favourite television programme together, or even a phone call to chat while you are at work. Done consistently, these simple acts can become a parent-child tradition that you both enjoy.
Children are perceptive and can sense our feelings and emotions; our anxiety can make them anxious too.
#5 Check your own anxiety
A few months before our children started primary school, I found stress creeping up on me, almost unnoticed. Upon reflection, I realised that my own negative school experiences were colouring my perceptions. In fact, I was assuming that they would end up fearful and anxious, just as I was. I had to remind myself that we had prepared them sufficiently, and that school is a place to learn, grow and make mistakes – and not a performance stage where the child needs to execute every task perfectly and win accolades. Children are perceptive and can sense our feelings and emotions; our anxiety can make them anxious too. As I began to relax and enjoy the process of preparing for school, my children did as well.
Helping a child to overcome the first-day jitters can feel challenging at first, but in retrospect, it was a great bonding experience for us. As you encourage and coach your child to face their fears and overcome them, you will help them gain resilience and also strengthen your relationship with them – hang in there mums and dads!
By Judith Xavier
© 2017 Focus on the Family Singapore. All rights reserved.
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