Anxious new school mums, we see you. If 2021 presents the first time you will send a child off to school, we know you may be having conflicted emotions about the new chapter that’s about to begin, for them and for you.
Of course you’re excited for them. Hopefully, you also feel like they’re ready for the change, but are YOU?
If you haven’t returned to full-time work yet, then you’re probably also feeling a bit sad about the prospect of having less time with your child than ever before, or maybe you’re just feeling emotional about the fact that a child starting school means they’re entering that inevitable time of their life when their peers play a more influential role and you begin to fade into the background a little.
But before you spiral into a depression (please don’t!) we want to help you cope with those emotions and provide some practical strategies (which we’ll be using) to survive your child’s first day of school.
How to cope when your child starts school: 7 practical tips
1. Write it out
If you’re already beginning to feel big emotions surrounding starting school, don’t wait for those emotions to flood out at the school gate on your child’s first day. Some time in the lead-up, preferably a night or two before, write all of your feelings out in a journal or even just a word document. The more open you are about them in the period preceding the first day, the less likely you are to be suddenly overwhelmed at the exact time you need to be strong.
So when you have a quiet moment to yourself (likely late at night when the kids are in bed), instead of watching more Netflix, grab yourself a glass of wine, and without judgment or attempting to find solutions (that’s what we’re here for!) write out everything you’re feeling. You won’t completely “get it out of your system” as they say, but it will help prepare you and hopefully prevent you from being bowled over by emotion at the least convenient occasion.
2. Have a cleansing cry
Anxiety and strong emotions are contagious, so it’s advisable that (if at all possible) you hang on to your tears until your child has been acquainted with their kindergarten teacher and is safely out of sight. That said, crying to release tension can be very cathartic. So if you’re no longer at risk of upsetting your child and still feel the need to release the tension after the moment has passed, then allow yourself to let all those emotions out with a big cleansing cry. And make sure you have tissues handy!
3. Lean on your friends
It’s scientifically proven that talking about our feelings, no matter how OTT they may seem at the time, helps us feel better. If all you have time to do is text or call close friends who you can count on to provide the sympathetic ear you need if you’re feeling sad, then do that. Remember that you’re not alone on this journey. You may even have already connected with other mums whose children are starting school on the same day.
If you’ve got the time to actually sit down for a coffee or lunch with them then the therapeutic benefits will likely be even greater. This leads us to our next point…
4. Take time off
Obviously, some parents won’t be in a position to take the day off work, but if it’s possible for you then we highly recommend it. This is a big day in both your lives and knowing you won’t have to rush to and from work in between school drop-off and pick-up will mean you can give yourself the time and space to process your emotions, be calm and ready to collect your child when the school day is done, and have a healthy afternoon tea waiting. The calmer and clearer your mind is, the better equipped you’ll be to listen to your child at the end of the day, without worrying about the other thirty things on your to-do list.
5. Prepare for post-school moods
Your home should feel like a place of respite from whatever goes on at school. Whether your child/children have such a great day that they arrive home wound-up and you need to provide a supportive but calming environment, or they have an average or awful day and you need to remind them that they’re loved and pep them back up, the first thing you’ll need to do is give them a bit of space until they’re ready to talk about it.
If they’re excited, meet their level of excitement for a little while before attempting to have them wind down for the evening. If they’re tight-lipped, maybe just suggest they change into their casual clothes and unpack their bag so that they’re physically distancing and detangling themselves from the school day.
Think about what you’d ideally do after a long day at work (if you didn’t have a family to look after). You’d likely come home and flop in front of the lounge right? So let them watch an episode of something that provides a bit of unwinding before worrying about getting into homework or a huge discussion about school.
Then, put out some afternoon tea (like these healthy after-school snack options) in the kitchen or dining area (not in front of the TV) and sit with them if they’re already starting to open up, or busy yourself with other jobs in the kitchen until they’ve had a bit to eat and seem more open to talking about their day.
You should still have time during dinner and after reading books at bedtime where you’ll get more chances to check-in with them about how they’re feeling.
6. Schedule one-on-one time
If one of the things that worries you most about your child starting school is a perceived loss of time to connect with your child and enjoy their company then take a look at your calendar and see where you can schedule some one-on-one time with them.
You might be able to spend a couple of hours with your kindergartener in between the end of the school day and collecting your other child/children from daycare (if they have younger siblings). Or perhaps you could plan a weekly dinner or ice-cream date post swimming lessons, soccer training, or after whichever other after-school activity you are running them around to. Even a walk around the block one evening a week could be enough for you to help maintain your bond. Failing that, there’s always weekends, and planning something exciting to do on the weekend with just you and your child can give you both something to look forward to.
7. Don’t forget about the siblings
With such a big life change on the horizon, it’s easy to forget about what your other children, if you have any, might be feeling. Remember that every new school year comes with change and challenges, and try your best to give everyone equal attention.
If you still have little ones at home, use the school days to really focus on making them feel special as drop-offs and pick-ups are likely about to become an annoying part of their lives and you want to ensure you’re having some exciting adventures in between.
We hope these tips help you navigate your way through your child’s first day. Remember to breathe and know that even though it’s ultimately your job to help your child become independent from you, they’ll always need you in their lives.
For more school-mum tips read: What new school-mums need to know (according to experienced school-mums!)