Saturday 22 October 2016

Guide to surviving your child's first day in 'big school'

Siobain Peters

Published 28/08/2015 | 02:30

Starting 'big school' is daunting for everyone involved
Starting 'big school' is daunting for everyone involved

So you think you're set then do you? Got the uniform, the books, the lunch bag. But what about your wits? Did you gather them for half price at the 'back to school' sale? Or your emotional well-being? Have you been one of those savvy mommies, stockpiling that since June?

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You see, starting 'big school' is daunting for everyone involved. But what about the moms and dads? Most of the 'getting started' advice out there is centred around the children's needs, so I am going to whine: "Where's my 'How to survive big school' guide?!"

Plainly, no one is listening to this particular temper tantrum, so I am just going to have to go ahead and create my own.

And to declare my qualifications, I have been through the painful process twice before in the last few years.

Okay, I'm lying - they were not painful at all, as both girls skipped into their classrooms smiling. But this September, I am going to meet my match in the form of my third child, the (mama's) boy, who is still fully convinced that the orientation day back in June was just a nightmarish blip in his generally happy, dirty-boy world.

So with all that on board, along with the advice of a few real experts, I have devised my own helpful tips to maintaining emotional calm in the eye of the starting school storm. Here goes.

Have a plan for the first day. Áine Lynch, CEO of the National Parents Council, says: "It helps if the parent has their day mapped out between the time of dropping the child off and picking them up."

She suggests going for a coffee or meeting up with friends. I know my plan on the day of dropping off 'Lord, Let-me-please-go-home' will be to skidaddle as quick as possible.

Heartless? Possibly. But it all ties in with the next tip...

Manage your own anxiety. There is no point in smiling through your tears, telling junior that all will be fine. "Children pick up on non-verbal cues as well as verbal," says Ms Lynch.

So either invest in some really intensive acting classes in the next few weeks or do the cowardly thing (like me!) and get the hell out of Dodge.

After all, in the experience of Mairead Kirby, principal of Kilruane NS (north Tipperary): "Four- to five-year-olds are quite sociable and resilient little people, who usually settle into school pretty quickly." So yeah, my guy will be fine, right...?!?

Contain the chatter. If this means wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with the command "Do not even think of mentioning 'big school'," then so be it. Maybe then, everyone might just get the hint. We're on the edge here, Granny, junior and myself, so just cool it with the school talk.

Get involved. Whether this means attending your child's orientation day or becoming parents association president, it all counts.

But how much is too much? Lorraine O'Donovan, a Limerick-based mother whose first child is entering junior infants this September, maintains that one of her primary fears is "how often you should go to the teacher if you are worried about something".

"My concern would be that in a bigger class, will the teacher know if there is something wrong with my child?"

Although many parents would echo Lorraine's sentiments, most of them don't want to be perceived as the "nervous Nelly" type.

Principal Kirby puts these parents to ease when she says: "We always advise parents to share their concerns with their child's class teacher, rather than sitting at home worrying."

So rest assured, the secretary doesn't roll her eyes when you call for the fifth time today (yeah right).

Follow your child's lead. Just as you tell your child to be friendly, you should do the same.

For parents who are not from the area, the first day of school can be as socially upsetting for them as it is for their child.

So go out on a limb here (while you are fleeing from your sobbing child) and offer a "hello". Triona Keogan, a Clare-based mom whose daughter has completed her first year at school, found: "People seem more reserved these days, and it is hard to know if you should introduce yourself or not."

Extra tip - do not for one moment show up in your gym gear, because then no friendliness, everyone will just hate you.

Happy child equals happy parent. First off, don't send weird lunches. Case in point: I sent hummus in with my oldest this year because a) she loves it; and, b)it is pretty good for you.

Although we are living in post-eighties Ireland and hummus is indeed available in little plastic tubs in most supermarkets, a quarantine-like circle was formed around my daughter when she produced her yummy hummus.

Why? Because good for you or not, hummus can resemble vomit. Kids don't like vomit. So the take home message of that day: hipster parents - save your kale chips for the weekend.

Secondly, invite your kid's friends over. So even if you are tired, or house-proud, or just plain lazy, suck it up and bring some joy into their lives.

In John Lonergan's book, 'Parenting: Raising Your Child in Ireland Today', it is pointed out that a home should be "a place where your children's friends are made welcome".

Besides, on a Friday evening, it's great to be able to blame the mess on those pesky kids...

So, there it is in a nut/bombshell. It'll be fine, right? He'll be okay... I'm sure.

Don't really have the time to think about it now - I'm busy formulating the blueprint of a "smelly food policy". Watch out, parents association, I'm getting involved this year.

Irish Independent

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