Starting school is a big step for any child, but there are ways to help them feel more comfortable as they begin this new phase in their lives.

As your child approaches school age there are many things you can do to prepare for the changes ahead. Helping children to feel confident and positive about school will give them a good start.

They will be in a new place, with new children, new rules and routines. Many children find this very exciting whilst others will be a little daunted.

Before school starts

Talk to your child about what they can expect. Explain to your child about school rules, routines and schedules so they know what to expect. Assure them that the teacher is there to help, and that you will be there at the end of every day to talk to them. You could even tell them a bit about your own experiences at school.

Many schools and pre-schools help children during their transition to school. They arrange programmes which may include:

  • visits to the school over several weeks
  • walks around the school to see where things are, such as playgrounds  and toilets, spending time in a classroom with teachers and other children;
  • the new teacher visiting your child in their pre-school setting;
  • time for parents to meet staff members and ask questions too.

These are some of the ways you can help your child to build confidence:

  • Talk with your child about what they think school will be like and share books with positive stories about starting school.  Your local library can advise you on which books to choose and you can borrow them for free.
  • Here are some practical ideas to help your child feel confident on their first day at school.
  • Take your child along when buying their uniform, lunch box/school bag (if you need them) and choose items they can open and close themselves.
  • Get used to bedtime and morning routines that they will have when they start school. Getting enough sleep is very important.
  • Practice the route to school and work out how long it will take to get there. It is worth taking the school run route with your child a few timesand point out where the entrance is and things you will see on the journey. Children like the expected because it makes them feel safe – the fewer surprises on the first day (like Mummy banging around trying to get into the school through the wrong gate) the better.
  • Plan to take your child to school on the first day.  Remember to show them where you will pick them up at the end of the day.

All children in Reception, Year One and Year Two are now entitled to free school meals.

Eating at school Eating at school can be a different experience for your child compared with eating at home or at a pre-school.  Children will often sit at shared tables or on benches. They will be encouraged to feed themselves and to cut their own food using a knife and fork, so try and practice at home.

****Don’t give your child a drink bottle that they can’t open themselves. ****

If your child suffers from any food allergies it is important that you inform the school as soon as possible.

If you plan to supply your child’s own lunch here are some useful tips:

  • Remember to label your child’s lunchbox – half the class might have the same design
  • Children are more likely to eat new foods when you’re not watching and when they are surrounded by other children eating.
  • Some schools will not allow certain items in a lunch box. They should tell you this information before your child starts school.

Label everything. And I mean, everything. You don’t want to be buying a new jumper and Peppa Pig lunchbox in October. 

First day

Be prepared: Ensure everything is ready the night before and leave yourself enough time in the morning to enjoy the day, rather than rushing to get out of the door. Take time to snap a picture of the school starter on their very first day as a keepsake.

Get ready without fuss or rush. Emotions will be already be high so avoid a before school meltdown by allowing extra time.

Handle your own emotions. Anxiety is contagious – parent anxiety can be transmitted to children. The first step is to be self-aware, deal with your own anxiety and work out why you’re feeling a certain way.

Be authentic. Children are surprisingly perceptive. They have antennae that tune in to parent behaviour so you need to be genuine.

Keep talking. Talking through your child’s fears and asking them what’s worrying them can help alleviate their anxiety.

Look to the future. Discussing your child’s first day and what will happen creates predictability about what will occur, reduces anticipatory stress, and helps them mentally prepare for change.

Save the tears, be they of joy or distress, for the car as you drive away.

Share with other parentsleft behind at the school gate. They may be feeling just the same as you.

Dealing with separation anxiety: Reassure your little one that you will be returning to pick them up in a few hours’ time to hear all about their big dayand make them aware that the teacher is there to help, if they need it.

If you’re particularly concerned about your child settling in or you know there are problems at home which may affect their behaviour, just talk to the teacher. Remember, they are professionals and are used to dealing with all types of children who are starting school. They will call if there are any problems. Try to enjoy the rest of your day – without worrying too much!

Home time: Make sure you’re not late when it comes to picking them up. You don’t want them to be anxious that you’re not there, and they will be excited to tell you all about their day. Set some quality time aside to have a chat about how things went, perhaps with an afternoon snack.

At the end of the school day

  • Your child may be tired at the end of the day – don’t plan too many activities after school.
  • They may be really hungry after school – take a healthy snack when youpick them up and/or try giving them an early tea.
  • They may want to tell you all about their day as soon as they see you – make sure you have time to listen. Ask them about what happened at school each day.
  • Encourage your child to talk to the teacher if they are worried or upset about anything that has happened.
  • Empty your child’s bag everyday – especially in the first few days, where notes and envelopes may be sent home.

Settling in

Make sure they get plenty of rest: Starting school is a big step and a huge change to a child’s routine. Ensure that you are strict with bedtimes, as you don’t want them to be tired and grumpy in the classroom the next day.

Stay organised: The first few weeks of school are hectic enough, so get into the habit of preparing everything you need the night before. Young children don’t have a great sense of urgency, so getting them up in time to get them ready – without having to panic and rush them out of the house – will help things run more smoothly.

Let them make friends: Children build relationships naturally, so let this process happen. Organise ‘play dates’, but don’t try to force him or her to be friends with someone they don’t naturally bond with.

Keep talking: Set some time aside each day to ask about how school is going. Keep your questions simple and try to build up a good picture of what life at school is like, and if they are happy with it. Ensure they know to talk to a teacher if something is making them unhappy in class.

If you do have concerns about how your child is settling at school,

  • Try and speak to the class teacher first. They may have made the same observations as you. Ask if there are things you can do at home that will help support your child. If you want to talk again about how things are going, agree a time with the class teacher. It can also help if you:
  • let the teacher know if there is something happening at home that may be affecting your child;
  • let them know about any health problems your child may have;
  • read all the school notices and reply as soon as possible.
  • Leaving your child at school It can be quite difficult saying goodbye to your child. Ensure they know that you, or whoever is dropping them off, will be back to collect them later.
  • If they’re really upset, talk to the class teacher about ideas for making the separation process easier and work on them together. Ask if you can phone the school office later to check your child is okay.