Starting school - survival guide

The start of any school year heralds a flurry of activity for parents and a degree of nervousness for children. Both are heightened when the transition from home to school happens for the first time.

Children are leaving the safe, secure environment of home, where they often have the undivided attention of a parent, to enter an environment where they are competing for time with many others.

Parents who are new to the school scene naturally want to facilitate a smooth, positive transition for their child.

Armed with a survival kit of tried and trusted helpful hints, all parents can face the start of the new school year with confidence.

How Can I Ensure the First Days at School Are All Smiles?

Handling Separation Anxiety

The first day at school is bound to be an emotional one for both mothers and children. Many children will handle it confidently, others will be fine up until the moment they have to say goodbye, while some will cling to their mothers, shed tears, plead to go back home and break your heart in the process.

A sound way to minimize separation anxiety is to prepare your child as much as possible for the big day. Trying on the school uniform a few days prior to school, packing the school bag and deciding on food for the lunch box will allow your child to get accustomed to the idea of school. Talking about the first day of school in a positive mode and revisiting what will happen when they get there, paves the way for an easier transition.

Difficult departures at the door

When the time comes for you to exit, be strong, say goodbye and leave the classroom as expediently as you can. Even if your child starts objecting strongly, or becomes visibly upset, the best thing you can do is leave them with the teacher who has experience in this situation.

Teachers constantly witness children switch from apparent devastation to smiles and interest in class activities within minutes of mum's departure, yet if mums remain in the classroom, anxious behaviour persists. Should your child not settle in quickly, you can rest assured you will be notified. Trust in the teacher, leave your child at the classroom door and join other mums for a much-deserved childfree cappuccino.

Handling Homework

Homework is a link between school and home, an opportunity for parents to see what is being covered in class and monitor their child's progress. It is designed to develop self-discipline in students by giving them an opportunity to complete work without teacher supervision.

Allow children to have half an hour of play or relaxation before commencing homework. Morning homework sessions can often be more successful as interest levels are higher when minds are fresh. Should homework become an issue, contact the teacher and ask for assistance, which may include trading off some subjects in favour of others that need urgent attention. A child who is a whiz at maths, but struggling at reading would be better placed to spend more of their homework schedule on reading.

When settling in problems persist

The first few weeks of any new year are bound to have students feeling a little lost, but early anxieties usually give way to interest and enthusiasm. However, if you have concerns that persist for several weeks, or if your child's behaviour is out of character, then it warrants discussion.

Interview requests should be made either in writing or over the phone. Staff meetings and playground duty can limit the availability of teachers, so provide several time slots to accommodate busy schedules. Give the teacher some idea of the purpose of your interview: academic progress, social concerns or 'settling in' issues.

Once you have requested an interview it is natural for a teacher's focus to shift to your child as they mentally prepare for the meeting to give you quality time and accurate information. At the conclusion of the interview arrange to follow up on the issue in several weeks via note or phone call, so that both school and home are informed of positive progress or the need for further intervention.

If bullying becomes an issue

Schools have policies and strategies in place to combat antisocial behaviour, however, despite the best of intentions, children can still fall victim to bullies.

The first step is to alert the teacher of the type of bullying your child is being subjected too: physical, emotional or social. Strategies such as buddy systems, where your child teams up with another class member or older pupil in the school are sound practices for reducing bullying opportunities, especially in the playground where it is most likely to surface.

Bullies are generally cowards who hide behind negative behaviour patterns to score self esteem points. The child who can stay non responsive and avoid contact will find that most of the power dissipates when the bully fails to get a reaction. Persistent problems may require the services of a school counselor.

Education today is a collaborative effort between parents and schools. Teachers, parents and students collectively working towards a positive, harmonious environment will result in a recipe for success on every front.