Has your child just started primary school? Here's Rachel from Make a Long Story Short on starting school worry, with some good advice on what you should and shouldn't worry about...
So your child has started Reception...and if you’re anything like I was, you feel like Katniss in that creepy Hunger Games training centre, having to shoot down one damned computer-generated Tango man after another.
Except your Tango men are school forms. And phonics homework. And having to procure a clean jumper from somewhere every day. And that thing where your tiny four-year-old is possessed by a meltdown demon every afternoon as they come in the door.
I am here to tell you, new school parent, that you ARE as badass as Katniss Everdeen and you DO look as flawless as she does in jumpsuits and you MOST CERTAINLY can get through anything September throws at you. We’ve all been there and had the same issues, and it’s all totally normal.
It will also get better. Promise.
Here are some things you should definitely stop worrying about in the first year.
Your child is not the only one crying at the school gate: You might feel like your child is the only one still clinging to your coat like you’re handing her over to the Child Catcher. Honestly, she’s not. Children all over the country are whimpering into their welly bags while their mothers feel like squashed-up excrement. I know it’s hard (so hard! I cried a lot myself), but it’s ok: she’s not desperately unhappy and she doesn’t feel abandoned. It’s just a big change, and crying and clinging is a four-year-old stress-coping mechanism (and, um, a mechanism that comes over me sometimes in Tesco). Just know that a) the teachers are very used to it, don’t think any less of her and will deal with it kindly; b) she’s almost certainly cheering up within five minutes of you leaving; and c) it will get better by degrees. Mine had little relapses after every long holiday, too - we used a sticker chart to ease him out of the habit each time.
It is entirely typical for a four-year-old to start school and give you holy living hell at home for the first month. I’ve written about this already, here, and still managed to forget about it this year. ‘WHY are they being so awful?!’ I wailed to my husband the other morning. He sighed. ‘Because it’s September, and they’ve both just started something huge’, he said. Ohhh yes, I remember. The September Rages. Little people use up all their best behaviour in this unfamiliar environment, then come home and fling all their worst parts at you. It’s not demonic possession, and it settles down after the first few weeks. Buy in some cake, and hang on.
The parents at the gate are as hopeless as you: Going into the playground on that first morning can feel like starting school again yourself. They all know each other already! They’ll judge me horribly if I arrive wearing joggers with a soggy bran flake embedded in the left buttock! Well, I would advise a canny buttock-sweep before you leave the house, but otherwise, don’t be afraid of the parents at the gate. There are two types, and you’ll need both. One type has older children in the school already, so they know where they’re going, what they’re doing and what assembly day entails. Ask them constantly and unashamedly for information. They remember what it’s like, and won’t mind at all. The other type is sending their precious first-born to school in a mess of trepidation, like you. They get it. They’re not judging you. Confess your own hopelessness and they’ll all be your greatest allies.
The correct answer, always, to ‘what did you do today?’ is ‘mmmphblurghnurgh’: Is this a boy thing? I don’t know: I only have boys, which is not a representative sample. Ask what they played with, what they learned, what they had for lunch, what their teacher’s like - and you’ll get a blank stare and a shrug in return. You’re desperate to find out how they’re spending their time without you; they’re wondering if it’s chicken nuggets for tea. I am convinced that small children live in dog years, and asking them what happened in the morning is like trying to visualise the second Ice Age for us. They can’t do it; c’est la vie.
They’re doing so much better than you think: You will worry. You might tear out your hair. You will wonder when you became your child’s PA. You will pore over every ‘no one played with me today’ and envision your beloved child shambling alone around the playground like the school hobo. Just bear in mind that they’re doing a lot better than you think. The teachers are right there if you have any concerns, but they’ve got this, and so has your four-year-old, who will go further this year than you could possibly have imagined. Just take everything with a deep breath and a giant pinch of salt, and watch them fly.
Do you have any good tips for combating starting school worry? Leave a comment and let us know. Catch up on Rachel's blog here (and her news!) Make sure you also read Fran's post on the emotional roller coaster of starting school and Foz's tips on picking the right secondary school.