.... Your Language Really Matters!
Do you have a child starting school in September 2020?
How do you feel……sad, excited, maybe relieved as you got the school you wanted? How do you think you will feel on their first day of school? These feelings are strong enough in normal times without the added worry and uncertainty of the current times with Covid-19.
As a parent there are so many emotions and thoughts running through your head during this period but if you feel like this, can you imagine how your child must feel who I’m sure struggles to cope with their emotions at the best of times…..
Generally most parents start by telling their child “ooo you’ll be going to big boy/girl school soon”, how do you feel about starting school in Sept? You’ll have a new teacher, new classroom, new friends etc and this is quite often followed up with a “stay and play’ session in their new school, to meet their new teacher and surrounded by lots more new children than they’ve ever been used to and in a much larger setting…
Photo by: Ariel Skelley
Now many of us don’t actually think about the language we are using when we speak to our children (it’s only as I’m writing this that I realise just how daunting this can be for a child and obviously some more than others) but if you actually think about it this news is MASSIVE to a child… all they hear is everything is NEW, they will be going to this NEW place at some time but because they haven’t really mastered the concept of time yet they have no idea of when September is or when in a few months is or what after the school holidays actually means…. So when we think we are explaining things to our children to try and prepare them for the changes ahead…are we actually sometimes making it worse perhaps making them feel anxious!! I think you get my point that everything is saying to your child that a NEW change is coming but you can't explain properly when this will be and as we all know children don't generally like new, they like familiarity and routine.
So how we can prepare our children for starting school??
Below I have tried to give some practical advice for ways how can help your child..
Use a gradual approach
Start talking about school in general terms and not in terms of a ‘change’…..when you walk past their new school or any school ask them questions......tell them positive things…'oh look, the children are playing, they sound like they are having fun don’t they?', 'What do you think the teachers are like?'. If your child has an older sibling that attends school, start talking about their brothers/sisters' experience and what they like about school. Basically, talk about school in a positive way and try to avoid using the words new and change as much as you can.
Ask them questions…
Once the news has settled in that they will be going to a BIG boy or girl school, occasionally ask them how they feel? What do you think they will do all day? Tell or better still show them the playground…what child doesn’t like a playground? Read books around the subject, watch a school related TV show, show them pictures of you at school.
… the time frame
This is a difficult one but with my son I like to list out events for him in the order they will happen so he is able to gauge what is coming next and in what order….so maybe you have lots of fun things planned over the summer holiday, a birthday party, a holiday break all these things that are going to happen before starting school…keep talking about these events in order….this will allow your child to mentally prepare for what is coming next…it then won’t be so unexpected and out of the blue.
Nearer the time
As the big day approaches, get your child involved and excited….go shopping for some new school things that your child can pick..maybe a few pencils, a pencil case, a water bottle or bag with their name on it…. I’m actually getting excited now!
On the day
You're sad, you're excited but don’t turn the first day of school into a big thing….make it happy, fun, light hearted and definitely don’t look sad or teary (although that may be easier said than done). Get them to pack their own bag, layout their school uniform ready for when they wake up or get them to choose their own outfit….maybe pack a teddy/comforter in the bag with them....my mum used to spray a little of her perfume on my sleeve so I had a familiar smell.
.... and then just like that they are off.....starting their very first day at school!
There are differing opinions on this topic and like everything, every school will have different expectations as will parents. But it is also so important to remember that YOUR CHILD IS UNIQUE and no one knows them better than you! Some children will be younger than others so meeting the same set of ‘expectations’ is crazy, some will naturally be better in some areas than others, some children will need more encouragement in certain ares…. you get my point. Social pressures can be hard on everyone so try to relax about it….I have made a generalise list of what you may see being reported on what a child should know before starting school.... but definitely don’t let this worry you, these are simply guides and all children get there in their OWN TIME and many schools only really care about the non-academic items as the rest is taught in school. I actually don’t find these kinds of lists that helpful and feel many important attributes/skills have been missed such as social skills like share, being polite and kind to others which are equally if not more important that purely academic skills which will be taught in school anyway.
Remember and know there will always be competitive, opinionated parents whose little darlings can count to one hundred, recite the alphabet backwards and tie their school laces with their eyes closed while their mummies make damn sure you know this…..BUT if you ever come across this mummy brigade ignore their chatter, be confident in your child and their abilities and in the qualities you have taught them, always teach your child to be polite, respectful, caring and that they are special in so many ways. Teach them to try their best, try their hardest and that everyone excels in different ways and some later than others but we all get there, everyone is special in their own way.
Please drop any other advice or experiences into the comments below as it may help another parent/carer. How is your child feeling? How have you help them to feel excited or less anxious about starting school In September?