It doesn’t get any easier for Claire Hailwood who is navigating her fourth child’s ’first day of school’. Here’s her advice so you can make things a tad smoother
The countdown has begun.
In T minus 5 days (as I write this) my youngest child starts school for the first time.
I’ve done this three times before and once with a teenager re-starting education after almost a lifetime out of education so I’ve got some good lived experience.
But at the supermarket, as he tried on school shoes for the first time and struggled to lift his feet to walk having worn crocs all summer, my eyes filled with tears as I remembered the day he was born!
The build up to the first day is full of strange feelings, questions and traditions;
- People keep asking me if ‘he’s ready’ and I’m not sure I know what ready means or if my wild number four is or not.
- Learning the new language and culture of the school compared to whatever came before, amidst new adults each with different stories, backgrounds and experiences. I can’t help but look around and wonder whose kids will be my boy’s friends (and praying he has some).
- The strange way that I feel when I’m with a headteacher even though I’m now an adult and not in trouble!
- In the various school starts that we’ve done with our four, here are some things that I’ve learned (and am trying to learn!)
1. You’ll feel some contradictory feelings and that’s OK
It’s possible (and normal) to simultaneously feel excited for the next phase and grief for the passing of the former! Both are important feelings and OK to feel. Sometimes I’ve longed for them to stay small forever, but then I know I’d miss the opportunity of seeing what’s next and who they become.
If they stayed as a baby (which is obviously impossible) then we’d never fully release them and that’s our role as parents and carers, to raise our children in order to release them.
I know I’ll feel emotional on the first day – oversized uniform on little people gets me every time – it’s an important moment in their lives that we won’t ever forget.
2. Don’t project your feelings
We can get so concerned about how our children are feeling about this epic day that represents a seismic shift in their lives, that we can ask them (a lot) if they’re worried, scared about anything, frightened about being lost or about the uniform….
Sometimes what we’re doing is projecting our own worries on to them. I’m not sure any of my children were aware of the significance of their first day and how it defined their next 13 years (at least) because they’re only four!
Of course we should talk about what’s coming up and what it means but children will pick up on our feelings, so if we model an anxious presence, it’s likely to amplify anything that’s already there in our children.
I’ve tried to create occasional moments of conversation through play if I’ve wondered if they’re worried about something, without assuming negativity. When and if they have shown or said that they are scared, I’ve worked hard to reassure them that those feelings are normal and OK to feel, and to think together about what we could do to be brave (this amounts to: feeling scared and doing it anyway!)
It’s quite likely that there are some relatively simple things we can do to support our child and to answer their questions which dissipates some of their anxiety.
3. Don’t play the comparison game
At my son’s final taster morning in his new school before the holidays, grown ups were ‘invited’ to stay for a presentation from the staff which finished with an opportunity for questions. I was just about to ask what time school started (yes I should have known!) when another adult put their hand up and asked what literacy pathway the school used, how it compared to preschool and how they could prepare their child.
I didn’t ask my question…
God has made the child you’re taking to school for the first time to be brilliant and unique in some way. It’ll be different to their friends or others in their class. Perhaps their brilliance will be immediately obvious, perhaps it will take time to reveal itself.
Little Jimmy may arrive at school able to read the Lord of the Rings Trilogy while your child knows the first letter of their name at best. Maybe someone else’s child can get dressed on their own or eats all the fruit and vegetables there are, while yours requires assistance for all clothing and only eats food on the beige spectrum!
No one wins the comparison game so don’t play it! Stay in your lane and encourage your child to run well in theirs. Yes encourage hard work and independence, yes learn and be inspired by others, but child raising isn’t a competition and the playground can feel like another level of it if we allow it. Don’t!
4. Character v academia
School is full of extraordinary professionals who are wholeheartedly committed to educating our children and we must honour them for what they do.
Some children are wired for academic success and others are not. As you discover where your child’s strengths are, invest in them. If they’re not academic, that’s OK too.
More important than academic success is character. I want to raise children who’ll befriend others, initiate play and inclusion, who’ll stand against mean-ness and demonstrate kindness, who speaks with honour to their teachers.
As school starts, but honestly throughout, let’s focus on growing character and developing emotional resilience and social skills alongside the maths homework!
5. Pray with and for your child
It’s obvious right?
I’m sure I don’t do it enough.
Be specific. Pray for the characteristics you want to see, for deep friendships, a mind to love learning, for great relationships with teachers.
Pray with your children so they learn the rhythm of bringing things to God in all seasons.
6. Take snacks
Most importantly (perhaps after number 4), do not show up at collection time without snacks. Whether that’s a home made organic snack you’ve lovingly prepared, a fruit winder or biscuit, do not leave home without it!
However your child comes out of school, on the great days and the more challenging ones, food will only ever help.