All children are different and so are their feelings about starting school. They might skip into the classroom on their very first day, or they might have worries that make everything seem strange and scary.
Staring school is a huge adjustment for children, particularly those who didn’t spend their early years in a nursery.
With some gentle reassurance, most issues will resolve themselves in a week or two. The most important thing is to listen to your child’s concerns without judgement. Even little problems seem HUGE to young children, so try to see things from their point of view.
Before their first day, it helps to be aware of the most common starting school problems.
“School is boring. I don’t want to go back.”
At some point your child decided that school would mean playing all day or doing exciting things at every moment. The sheer amount of sitting and being quiet can come as quite a shock.
If school isn’t meeting their expectations, you can only reassure them and show them that you empathise with their feelings. Explain that learning takes time and so does figuring out how to get the whole class to work together as a team.
If they’re struggling with excess energy, make sure they have some time to burn it off at the end of every day. If tiredness is a problem, keep their evenings calm, avoid exhausting weekend activities for a while and try putting them to bed 30 minutes earlier than usual.
“Someone was mean to me.”
A little bit of conflict between kids is normal. For one-off situations, talk to your child about things they can do if another child makes them feel sad or angry. For example, they could speak to a teacher or playground assistant, or seek out another friend to spend time with.
Many primary school have a ‘buddy system’ that partners children with old kids at playtime so that no one has to feel lonely.
If the problem persists, speak to your child’s teacher yourself. It may be that they are not aware that there is an issue, so discuss your concerns with them as soon as possible.
“I don’t want to go in there without you!”
In some cases, walking into the classroom itself is the biggest hurdle. The more of a fuss you make at dropping off time, the harder it can be for them to say goodbye. Remind them that you’ll be waiting outside at the end of the day and then hand them over to their teacher.
Seeing tears is always upsetting, but it’s extremely common during the first few weeks of school. Even well-settled children can have the odd tearful day. Teachers will have dealt with the same problem many times before and know exactly how to put your child at ease. If they have any suggestions or concerns, you’ll be the first to know.
“I don’t have any friends.”
Not all children find their new best friends straight away. You can speed up the process by inviting a couple their classmates to play after school. Make these playdates one-on-one so they have chance to build a bond away from the distractions of other children. Afterschool clubs can also be a great way for them to socialise and gain confidence.
If after a few weeks they are still unhappy, ask their teacher for help. They will probably sit your child with a cheerful member of the class who will offer the olive branch of friendship.
“I want to stay at home with you, like I always do.”
Given the choice, most of us would stay somewhere that makes us comfortable and happy.
It takes time to adjust to a new routine. Give them something fun to look forward to at the end of each day – whether it’s a cuddle on the sofa or a kickabout at the park. With a few daily distractions from their worries, the school day will suddenly feel like a normal part of life.
“I don’t want to talk about it…”
Sometime a sad yet silent child can be the most worrying. It may be that they are simply exhausted and taking time to process their feelings. Talk to your child about what is happening at school and share your own experiences, too. Voicing both positive and negative feeling about your day could encourage your child to open up as well. But if they don’t feel like speaking, don’t pile on the pressure.
If you can’t identify a specific issue, give them time to unwind and see if the situation changes. If you still feel uncomfortable, speak to their teacher and see if they can relieve some of your worries.
“You’re a stupid poo head!”
Sometimes starting school can trigger poor behaviour at home. Just like the child who becomes withdrawn and quiet, this may be their way of dealing with and processing their new routine.
Attention seeking behaviour is common, as is coping bad behaviour they may have picked up from another child. It can also be caused by the frustration of having to contain their natural impulsive behaviours all through the school day.
Be patient and give them time to adjust, but remind them some behaviours are always unacceptable. Give them plenty of opportunities to speak about how they’re feeling and to blow off steam in a reasonable way.