Tuesday 16 January 2018

A reading from the Book of ­Common Sense

All the worrying in the world won't make the path back to school any smoother, advises our writer

Facing their anxiety: Many children will be dreading going back to class
Facing their anxiety: Many children will be dreading going back to class

Frank Coughlan

The little lad was lagging behind his family, dragging his feet in the summer sand and sulking over some imagined slight.

His mother, with two other children to haul down the beach, was losing her patience.

"Do you want me to tell your new teacher in Big School that this is how you behave?"

The boy froze on the spot.

He was obviously starting in primary in school this coming term. This is not what he needed to hear.

In fact, if mam that thought long and hard on how best not to prepare her boy for the reality of school, I'm not sure she could have done any better.

What was she thinking? Obviously not thinking at all, a not uncommon or unforgiveable condition for a harassed parent coping with three children in varying stages of contrariness.

The chances are she'll pay for that throwaway remark when this same lad, all scrubbed up and uniformed, is cajoled through the gates for the first time.

Because back to school is a big deal. A combination of excitement and trepidation, buzz and anxiety. For first timers, it is much more again.

Who among us doesn't remember their first day? I do. A jam sandwich and a stern Miss Jean Brodie talking at us as gaeilge. Gibberish to me.

I still shiver. Still get the urge to sneak out and go home.

How you prepare a child for school has changed a lot since, just like school itself has.

Now classroom memories are shot in vivid, exciting colours. All mine are recorded in black in white.

But parents should still read the Book of Common Sense, a volume that is sadly out of print. Copies are still available though, usually on the bookshelf at granny and grandad's.

It is common sense, I would have thought, not to threaten to your child with school. It's not a place of punishment, and telling them it is might work in the short-term, but will most surely come back to haunt you.

But if the thoughtless mam and dad are likely to get it seriously wrong, they are not as consistently harmful as those who overthink and over-plan the whole circus.

Children should be allowed to enjoy their summer. Drop little positive nuggets into the conversation for the little 'uns as the big day approaches, but other than that, school should be a faraway continent on a child's summertime map.

Stressed mams (it is still mostly mams, be honest), bullied by the constant carpet-bombing of back-to-school adverts, often buckle under the pressure and the aura of endless, lazy childhood days simply evaporates.

The last nugget I have dug out from my Book of Common Sense is that all the worrying in the world won't make the path back to school any smoother.

In fact, if they pick up on your anxiety - something children are adept at - there is every possibility that you have transformed this essential rite of passage into something needlessly traumatic.

Sometimes it is the parents who are the ones with most to learn. The children generally have it all off by heart.

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