It’s an unforgettable moment, the day your child starts school for the first time. But the days that follow can be nerve-wracking, if you don’t have a plan in place. Here’s a how-to guide for parents
Yes!! It’s that time when you have just finished buying your first school uniform and cannot believe your toddler is now ready for the big world called school. It is an unforgettable moment to see one’s child in their uniform and arrive at school for the first day.
School is such big change for families and children. There are lots of new rules and challenges for a child used to the open spaces and learning environment of kindergarten.
The first observation parents make, is how tiring it is for a child to get used to the regime of school. It is a very long day for them, and emotionally and physically tiring. One of the key recommendations from psychologists is to help your child adjust to these changes gradually. Be supportive by giving them rest times if they are moody or slow to do things, especially during the first two terms. Sunday can be used a rest day with less activities towards the afternoon. The importance of an early bedtime helps to get the sleep they need to learn better and concentrate on structured tasks.
In the beginning, school can either be a place that children look forward to with excitement, or a bit of anxiety. Many children get overwhelmed when they realise that school is every day and there is no going back to kindergarten. It is important to support your child’s feelings with keeping simple routines in the morning that are consistent and help your child with their planning skills. A general routine will go a long way in a child feeling settled and confident about predicting and adjusting to changes in their environment. Remember, this is one of the most important growing years where your child is developing the foundational skills to be social and part of a whole new world.
Enter your child’s world by spending 15 minutes a day playing with them. Play is a child’s way to learn. Adults can see what a child’s world is all about by being part of this wonderful time together. You are also showing your child lots of skills like taking turns, sharing, how to lose a game, and playing fairly. This helps children start to understand the expectations from them in their social world, and how to manage and understand their feelings in these situations. It is also important for a child to feel they are important and you want to spend time with them. When you hear the phrase, “Mummy and Daddy, play with me” or “Look! I did it!” as an invitation to show off a newly acquired skill or to share a game, it is an opportunity to help build your child’s self-esteem, and for them to feel you are interested in their world, and can slow down and notice their efforts to interact with you. So, yes, doing for one’s child is important, but doing with them is just as important, and helps parents and children have fun together and bond.
In school, it is the first time that a child is going to sit on chairs and start doing written work and learning skills like using a pencil, writing shapes and letters, learning sounds of words, and following simple stories when you read them out. These the key learning tools for academic learning, and while it is tempting to turn your house into a mini-class room, it is helpful to remember that home is where children have the opportunity to spend time with family. We can start small routines and structure to help children start taking responsibility. This can include small household jobs like putting their school clothes in the laundry basket, putting their shoes and socks on, packing up their toys, or helping with clearing up the table. Helping children do their homework reader in a clutter free space and learning how to organise the space around them, is also important at home, and will help at school. A morning routine and evening routine is very helpful for children’s organisational skills, especially on weekdays.
Starting school is a time when children start to develop their own independent identity away from their parents. Helping them make friends is a great way for them to be socially confident with their peers. Organising play dates with new friends can build their social skills. Forming good friendships help children understand how they feel, how others may feel, and how to show feelings of caring and empathy towards their peers. These important emotional skills will stand them in good stead as the social demands on them increase with the developing years. And lastly, looking after a child is so mentally and emotionally absorbing, it can leave parents very little time and focus to look after themselves. As a parent it is very important to give oneself the mental and physical energy to meet the demands of the role. Mums and dads need to be the police officer, patient arbitrator of squabbles, judge, jury, bedtime monitors, comforter, and Lego expert, all in one. Other jobs seem easy by comparison. There is no manual on what fits in best with your child and you learn from every mistake you make as a parent. Talk about your challenges or stresses to your psychologist or paediatrician and get the support you need for a happy start of school. Have fun with your child’s new discoveries and wonderment of the world around them, and as your own parents may remind you, slow down, these years will pass all too.
Dr Raj Khillan is senior paediatrician, Western Specialist Centre; Dr Malini Singh is a psychologist at Change for Life