School day nerves
When your child starts school, it may be the first time they have been away from you and it can be a stressful time for both of you. Alternatively, your child may have already experienced a childcare setting.
Helping your child cope with changes by making transitions as smooth as possible will help build their resilience to changes. Your child may experience some level of anxiety at being separated from you. Reception class school staff will be familiar with supporting children who find the start of the school day upsetting.
Adjusting to school and what you can do
Every child is different and some may need more time adjusting to the new routine. Especially when they realise that they need to go back everyday. With some patience, your child will get into a routine with school, and drop-off will become less dramatic.
Keep in contact with your child’s teacher
Most children who cry at drop-off stop crying after saying goodbye. To make sure, keep in contact with the class teacher. This could be at the classroom door, email or a phone call, but it may not always be appropriate to talk in front of your child.
Stick to the routines
Hungry, tired children are often clingy and more emotional.
Get excited about the school day
On the way to school, talk about what your child might do and who they might play with. Stay upbeat and do not overload them with questions. If you sense the conversation makes them more worried, change the subject to something non-school related.
Don’t compare your child’s behaviour to another who might not have been upset. Don’t create a drama about previous experiences at drop-off.
Get them busy
Settle them in before you leave. The class teacher will have activities ready and your child will soon know what to do when they arrive. You could ask them to show you their most recent collage or favourite book if they’re reluctant to play with others.
Do not give your child the impression that you’ll stay long. If you have trouble with your exit strategy, ask the teacher if they can step in so you can leave. Schools will gradually discourage the parent/carer accompanying the child into school over the first half term or so.
Don’t let on that you’re worried or waiting for trouble at the drop-off. Instead, appear confident that your child will separate easily. Say goodbye cheerfully and matter-of-factly. Then walk out without a backward glance.
Make sure not to disappear suddenly as your child may feel worried and unsure after you leave.
Young children who worry
It can be empowering to educate young people around why we worry. It’s a healthy emotion and it helps to keep us safe.
Young minds are reactive and as parents or carers we can help young children to manage that feeling. You can help to explain that worrying is normal, it’s a sign to slow down and breathe, and that it’s a temporary feeling.
Encourage learning from natural consequences
A natural consequence is anything that happens naturally, with no adult interference, for example when you stand in the rain, you get wet. When you don’t eat, you get hungry.
It’s important not to lecture your child with “I told you so.” Try to show empathy, for example, “you must have been cold with no coat” and offer a comforting solution without rescuing. This could be suggesting that they have a shower to warm up instead of “next time I’ll bring your coat if you forget.”
Validate the child’s feelings too with “you must have felt really uncomfortable”, instead of “weren’t you silly for forgetting it.”
Actively talk about emotions and feelings
Share your feelings and validate theirs. When they feel scared, anxious or worried, you may say things like, “What questions do you have? What are you wondering about?” or “This is really hard right now, but I know we can deal with this and we can get through this together.”
Get more advice on how to talk to your child about feelings
Practice relaxation techniques together
A relaxed child can think more constructively and positively. They have the space to reflect on issues. Their behaviour may improve because they feel calmer.
As a parent and a carer, it’s also important to recognise your own needs and care for your emotional wellbeing. Looking after children and starting a new school routine can be stressful and your child may pick up and react to your behaviours.
Recognise positive choices and accept mistakes
Learning from mistakes allows children to face and grow from failures. and recognise where they went wrong.
This helps minor inconveniences to not lead to temper tantrums or misbehaviour. Instead, your child learns how to spring back into action.
Facing failure makes children less prone to feelings of anxiety.
How can I help my child?
Stick to routines, be consistent, have together-time and involve the family so that everyone takes the same approach.
Be clear, be calm, discipline in a fair way, be positive about good behaviour and champion successes.
If you feel you would benefit from them, find out about local parenting advice or courses. They can help build confidence, learn ways of coping and provide opportunities to meet other parents.
Be kind to yourself and take care of your own wellbeing. Talk to others.
When emotions run high, remember that you’re the adult in the situation, and you’re in charge of your small child, not the other way around!
Get advice if your concerns continue over a period of weeks. Contact the School Nursing Service, your GP or your child’s school.
When any aspect of your child’s daily routine (sleep, eating, toilet training, tantrums) becomes an overwhelming problem, continues for too long or significantly affects their life or your family life, it’s worth considering possible reasons or underlying difficulties.
Discuss with your child’s class teacher, your GP or make a self referral to the School Nursing Service.