Thursday 27 October 2016

Top psychologist: Don’t just ‘dump and run’ if your child is very upset on the first day of school

Published 20/08/2015 | 08:45

A pupil waits in the courtyard of a primary school on his first day
A pupil waits in the courtyard of a primary school on his first day

Don’t just ‘dump and run’ if your child is very upset on their first day at school, advises leading psychologist Allison Keating.

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There are some children for whom going to school for the first time is dreadfully upsetting, the expert pointed out.

However, she has some tips for parents on how to handle the situation if it happens.

“If they are really bawling crying, and they don’t want you to leave, I would think bend down to their level, give them a hug and say to them ‘look I can see you are very upset, and I know it’s a bit hard for you. I am going to be back in a few hours and you and I will go to the playground’, or whatever.

“Give them a big hug. Then bring the teacher over and kind of hand over through the teacher,” said Ms Keating.

It’s setting very clear boundaries, she pointed out.

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For those parents who are bringing kids to school for their first day, the advice is don’t hype it up too much.

“It’s a fine balance between excited, but not to tip it over the edge, because it can become a little bit overwhelming for the kids,” she said.

“Get up, say ‘this is your special day’, have breakfast, get dressed, arrive and bring them in. As it’s the first day, they will let you in to the classroom.

“Tell them mummy or daddy will be back in an hour or two.

“Very clearly tell them you are dropping them in, but you will be back. For a lot of children, just doing that really gives them a sense of security,” the psychologist said.

She also had some tips for parents who are dealing with a child who is already feeling anxious in the weeks before starting school.

“For a child who is anxious, I would sit down with the child when they are playing or drawing – drawing being the best modus operandi for a four or five year old – and just get them to draw out how they feel about going to school,” said Ms Keating, who is a psychologist with the BWell clinic in Malahide.

A pupil waits in the courtyard of a primary school on his first day

“They are not going to draw it exactly for you, but you will get a gist of how they are feeling about it and I think it’s about letting the child verbalise their fears.

“I think sometimes parents think if you talk about it, it’s going to make it worse, you are giving air time to the fear, but you are actually not,” she said.

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“A child does not have the verbal skills or the emotional maturity to understand really what it is they are feeling. But if they can play it out through their dolls, or their toys, or draw it, this allows them to express their feelings.

“Rather than saying ‘oh you have nothing to worry about, you’ll be fine’, you say something like ‘okay you are worried about that. I can see that must be hard for you’,” she explained.

“If you allow that child to express those anxieties, at an emotional level they have got it out of their system.

“You are basically saying, ‘I can see that you are scared.’ So you are acknowledging it, and then you would say, ‘well what are you scared about?’ Then ‘that must be scary for you.’

“You are not trying to fix it, but you are hearing what their specific fears are,” she pointed out.

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Meanwhile, if parents themselves are feeling stressed about their children starting school, the best advice is to talk to another adult about it – whether it be a friend or partner,  she said.

Children are massively intuitive and they pick up on the parents’ fears, she pointed out.

Ms Keating advised parents to be mindful of the language that they use.

“Just be aware not to talk about school in a negative way. They are taking their lead from you.”

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