It’s a big step—simultaneously heart-breaking, nerve-wracking, exciting, and everything else along the way. There’s no mistaking it for a major milestone.
Once you’re over that initial first day pride and terror; after that, comes The First Term.
Look I’m sure it will go smoothly and happily for you and your child, but it is a huge adjustment and even if your child isn’t having tantrums the entire way home (normal), it is very likely that you may want to make some changes to your daily schedule to keep the weeks positive, especially as the first term will likely coincide with worsening weather and darker nights.
Here are my top six ways to make life easier from the outset:
1. Have a big hug
Even if the new school is a totally happy place for your child, they are navigating a lot during the day. It’s a long day out! They will be eating lunch, navigating classroom rules, playgrounds, friendships.
When they come home, they need to transition back to a sense of home and calm: sometimes that first half an hour can be a bit fractious (i.e., a total fiasco). I tried a few things to improve the transition period‚ a fun activity set up, play-dates, food—but actually, I think the most effective way to make sure your child feels comfortable and relaxed, is just to sit down immediately and have a really big hug.
2. Think across the senses
Listen to some familiar music or burn a familiar candle—in the mornings and again when they first get home from school. This can help kids feel calm and secure. In case you needed any more excuses to buy candles.
Kids might need an energy boost after school with an extra snack—either on the way home or after you arrive, but you will be surprised/horrified how quickly a one-off treat becomes a non-negotiable requirement, so unless you want to be completely beholden to bringing a snack to every pick-up, approach this with caution (or at least be aware of what you are letting yourself in for).
4. Be flexible
You might need to shift your evening routine forward for a while; if ever there was a moment to be flexible, this is it. If you are battling a terribly grumpy mood all evening after school this is likely pure exhaustion and an earlier bedtime might be essential.
Similarly, you might want to consider making concessions in areas you usually stand firm. For example, I wrote this with our 5-year-old asleep next to me on our bed. This wasn’t a nightly routine, but on the odd occasion, with no real danger of forming any bad habits, a bit of extra security can be helpful during the transition period.
5. Take time off
Two fold: from school, and from your usual social routines.
Obviously the former might not be an option for you but if it is, then consider keeping things fluid and not expecting too much in the first term. If your child is really struggling and you are at home, or working flexibly from home, then there’s nothing wrong with keeping them off school for a day (or a morning). Being 4 or 5 and exhausted is a pretty good reason for some recuperation time.
Don’t feel the pressure to keep up on play-dates either. They are socializing all day and might just need to be quietly at home after school. This news is exceptionally welcome if you, like me, are deeply antisocial.
6. Game face
This is probably the most important bit and one I remind myself of, frequently. Whatever your thoughts, worries or reservations, you need to seem totally calm, in control, and happy about the set up. Your child needs to know that you have this covered and that they are in a safe and happy place in order to be confident themselves.
Have a hug, burn a candle, eat nice food, give yourself a break, take time off and above all else, fake it ’til you feel it.