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It’s a time of big change for children and parents alike. Many of us will have snap shots of memories of starting school: the smell of the classrooms, the sound of the dinner bell, the feeling of new school shoes.

Now we are parents how do we help our children to take their first steps into their school lives?

In consultation with our specialist Child Psychologists we have come up with some useful tips that we hope will help:

Stay calm and positive – be confident!

While all parents have mixed feelings about their child starting school, and feeling anxious and protective is completely normal, your child will pick up on unspoken messages you give, so try to stay positive and calm.

A clear message that lets them know you are confident they will cope and have fun is useful, as well as straightforward information about when they will see you next.

For example, “Have a great time with (Mrs X) – I bet you’ll enjoy all the Lego! I’ll pick you up straight after lunch.”

Try to avoid using phrases such as “I know you will be worried”. Not all kids are and in doing so we can plant seeds about failure and undermine their natural ability to cope and be curious.

Don’t linger

When it comes to the time to leave, a quick cuddle and goodbye followed by a firm and swift departure are best for children.  Although it’s tempting to linger to try to help them settle or check that they are ok, doing this for too long only prolongs things and puts off the inevitable, which can make it harder for both of you!

Give yourself plenty of time on a morning!

 Set expectations for their new routine and make sure you give yourselves plenty of time. Most 4 year olds have no sense of urgency when it comes to getting on with the boring tasks such as getting dressed and brushing their teeth!

Give them confidence to ask

We all worry about whether our children can read and write and want them to be well prepared for school. Our children are much more likely to be worried about how they will find the toilet or what to do at lunchtime. You can help prepare your child by making sure they feel confident to ask the teacher if they need help with finding something.

Give them confidence to make friends

Making friends is a big part of starting school. You can help them by playing games with their teddies and practising phrases such as, “what is your name?”, “can I play with you”, or “do you like football”.

It will be much easier for your child to use these phrases if they are familiar with them.

Relax after school

It is important to have some time after school for the child to engage in things which they like to do and are relaxing for them. Children are often tired after school so can find additional demands and activities hard.

Don’t bombard them with questions!

We all want to know what has happened at school but don’t bombard them with questions as soon as they come out of school, particularly about the things which we are worried about as parents, such as did they play with anyone or did they have anything for lunch. Ask them if they had a nice day or what was their favourite thing to have done and then allow them to tell you about their day in their own time.

And finally…

Remember, this is a big step, and some children will adjust more easily than others. It is important that you don’t compare your child, and if you have any concerns about them settling in speak to the teacher, they will be there to offer support and advice for you.

Written by Sarah Myburgh in consultation with Dr Emma Honey, Dr Susan Bruce and Dr Emma Bacon.