Preparing for the first day of school
By Fiona Baker |
First day of school

It's the middle of summer and your family's enjoying days at the beach and picnics in the park - but deep down there's an anxiety or nervousness brewing as the first day at school beckons. Maybe your child is starting primary school, or returning for a new year. Find out how to help your littlies (and you) deal with first day jitters.

It's completely normal to be a little anxious and nervous for everyone - first timers at school, returnees and parents - says family counsellor Tahlia Mandie. Here are her tips for parents and students.


Tips for first timers at school

Your baby is starting school and the excitement has been growing. But as the big day looms you and your child may start to feel a little jumpy.

For your littlie, it's the anxiety about the great unknown. They've never been to school as a fully-fledged, uniform-wearing student - and school visits, if they occurred, were weeks ago so who can remember?

Here's what Tahlia recommends to ease the nerves for first-timers:


  • "Normalise" those feelings of nervousness. "Tell your kids that it's okay to feel nervous and worried and that these feelings are very normal," she says.
  • Talk freely and regularly about starting school. "Prepare early," she says. "Make it a dinner-time subject and encourage kids to talk about what they're feeling. If there's something particular that their nervous about, see if you can get them to talk about it."
  • Have an expedition to the shops to buy their school stuff like stationery, socks, shoes and pencil cases and get them to help you write the list. "And make it a fun day out," says Tahlia. "Let them choose what they want and constantly build up the excitement of getting to use and wear it all."
  • Do a dry run. "If they're a bit concerned about the whole process, organise a school day where they get up in the morning, put on their uniform, pack their bags and walk or drive to where school is."
  • Eat a packed lunch at home. Some kids worry about accessing their lunches, or maybe aren't used to bringing lunch from home. Help them write a list of what they might like in their lunch box, and have a couple of "packed lunch" days beforehand.
  • Draw up a school-day schedule. "Children love routines and when they start school their usual routine will change. Work with them to write up a daily routine and discuss with them how the day will work."
  • Organise a play date. "If you know of other children who will be starting with your child, arrange for them to play a couple times before they start school," Tahlia says. Kids will appreciate seeing a familiar face in the school yard that first morning.



Back to school tips for returnees


After such a lovely summer break, it's understandable if your school veteran is reluctant to go back to school and all the structure and rules.


"Many kids will suffer from the post-holiday blues and not want their idyllic summer to end - that's a normal reaction," says Tahlia.

"But if their anxiety or reluctance seems more extreme, or if they're feeling down, there maybe something particular bothering them."

She suggests trying to get them to name what's bothering them - although they may not really know. It could be as simple as being worried about which class they'll be in. Or nervous about being in an older year and keeping up. Maybe they have an unresolved issue from the previous year.

"It may be hard to work out what the problem is and how to deal with it. As far they're concerned they don't like school and their solution is not to go," Tahlia says.

"That they will attend school is a given - but parents can help them come up with solutions and strategies to make it more enjoyable."

If your child has a more serious issue like bullying or learning difficulties , then these will need to be taken up with the school.


Back to school tips for parents

It's not at all unusual for parents to suffer from anxiety about sending their child or children off to school - particularly for the parents of first-timers because suddenly your little baby is going to be enjoying the comparative freedom of school.

Tahlia advises parents attend all the transition days with their child and take advantage of being able to talk to the school staff and other parents. She also recommends that, if possible, parents chat to parents whose kids are already at school.

"It can help ease the anxiety to get some inside knowledge beforehand," she says, "to know what happens and where to do drop-off and pick-up."

Before your family knows it, the school year will be back in full swing with the next lot of holidays beckoning.

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