When your little one to goes off to school or nursery for the first time, it may feel like an end of an era. It can be hard for a child to adapt to a new environment without their parents, but also for you as a parent to know how to let go!
These handy tips, based on expert advice, will help to provide some guidance on how to deal with the separation and transition a little more easily…
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To help your child get used to spending time away from you, arrange for them to spend a few hours with a friend or relative at first, and then gradually increase this until your child is able to spend a full day away from you without getting upset. This is also important for you, as you’ll need to know that you’ll both be fine without being with each other constantly!
Reading up on your first parent-child separation can really help, both for you and your little one. There are loads of story books available that turn a child’s first day at nursery/school into an adventure, so these can really help your child to prepare (click HERE for some great children’s book options). If you’re struggling with the concept of separating from your child, there are also lots of helpful guides for adults, with tips that can help to make it a little bit easier.
Make a table to count down the days until school starts- it will help your child visualise the time, and help you to get everything organised in advance!
4. Talk Things Over
If your child seems fairly underwhelmed by the concept of going to school/nursery, then try not to plant any ‘worry seeds’ which may wind them up unnecessarily. On the other hand, if your child tend to get very anxious then talk through as much of what will happen as you can – fear often stems from the unknown, so letting a child know what to expect can really help!
5. Sleeping Patterns
Try and get your child into a routine of waking up at the time you would need them to get up for school, and going to bed at a reasonable hour. This will help their body clock adjust, and help them to feel less tired and drained once school hours roll around.
6. Let’s Go Shopping
Take your child shopping for school supplies, and allow them to pick out certain elements themselves, such as a new pencil case or new shoes. This will make the prospect of school slightly more exciting, as they’ll be able to use all of their new things!
7. School Visits and Meet the Teacher
Encourage your child to come with you to have a quick look around their new school/nursery, so that it won’t seem completely unfamiliar when they start officially. It’s also a good idea to introduce them to their teacher or nursery supervisor beforehand, so that the person who will be caring for them won’t seem like a complete stranger.
8. Essential Skills
At school or nursery, your child will be expected to follow instructions to stop what they are doing, to wait quietly and to listen. It can be a really good idea to practice these skills beforehand, so that your child becomes used to behaving in this way. You could even practice some school/nursery activities such as painting or listening to a story, so that your child becomes more familiar with these tasks.
9. Get Everything Ready
Make sure uniform, lunches and bags are ready the night before, and that your child is in bed at a reasonable time so that they will get plenty of sleep. Try not to be late on your first day to avoid any extra stress for you or your child- you may want to set your alarm a little earlier.
10. Don’t Make Too Much of a Fuss
You will of course see that one sobbing mum still hugging her child in the playground after having said goodbye four times already, but don’t let that be you! Feeling guilty or upset about leaving your child will be sensed by your little one and will just upset them too, making them less likely to want to go.
Give a cuddle, a confident smile and tell them that they will have the lots of fun- and that you’ll see them later. Confidence will really help them to relax (and you can always have a little cry when you’re out of sight! *sniffles*).
11. Be Pick-Up Proud!
Don’t be late when picking up your child, and be sure to give them a huge hug! Tell them that you’re really proud of them and that they are really grown up- stay enthusiastic!!
As your child continues to attend school over the next couple of weeks, keep talking to them to make sure everything is okay. Once the novelty of the first week has passed, lots of kids start to say that they don’t want to go back, or they are unhappy, so don’t panic if you’re child seems a bit worked up; just let them know you are there to provide them with support, and see if things improve.
13. Maintain Trust
Once you see your child happily playing and school or nursery, don’t linger for too long or be tempted to sneak out quietly whilst they are playing, even with the best of intentions. Instead, maintain your child’s trust by clearly saying goodbye, and telling them clearly that you will come back later. Keep things light and silly (wave or pull a funny face!) to give the impression that everything is happy and okay. Also, using the same consistent goodbye everyday will indicate to your child that it’s time to leave mum and transition into nursery/school mode, helping to build a secure routine for them.
14. Keep Busy
You may find that your child is so busy taking part in school or nursery activities that they scarcely have time to miss you- but after so much time spent together, it’s quite likely that you’ll miss them! Don’t mope about the house feeling glum, instead use the time to return to work, see friends, complete errands or even take up a new hobby. It’ll be home time before you know it!
Getting your child used to spending time doing activities with other children can be a good idea, so if you can, join local playgroups. Your little one will learn how to socialise and interact with other children, plus it will give you a chance to make friends with other parents who have children of a similar age- so it won’t be just you waving off your little one when the time comes.
16. Comfort Object
If your child seems very distressed in a new setting such as school or nursery, allow them to bring a comfort object such as a favourite toy or blanket that smells like home. Even if they cannot bring it into the classroom, it may help them to feel reassured knowing they’ve got it safely in their bag.
17. Ask for Help
If you’re finding it really hard to get back into work/be at home alone, or if you’re feeling guilty about leaving your child at school or nursery (you shouldn’t do!) then don’t be afraid to ask for support! There are lots of parents who will understand how you feel and can lend a kind ear or may have some helpful tips. Some workplaces may also allow you to re-organise your work hours or stage a gradual return to work in order to fit in around your parenting needs. It’s always worth asking!
18. Babies are Resilient
It’s natural that you’ll feel anxious about your little one, when you’re so used to having them around. Remember that children are much tougher than you think though- your baby will be fine! Even if your child cries every time you drop them off, it’s often just because they are upset that you’re going, and not because they are unhappy at school/nursery.
On the other hand, if your child doesn’t seem in the slightest bit bothered when you drop them off then it’s not because they don’t care about you- it’s because you’ve done a great job of building their natural confidence and curiosity in the world!
You will always be the most important person in your baby’s life and a having them spend a few hours a day in someone else’s care won’t change this. It’s also important to remember that your child is exactly that- YOURS. Don’t be afraid to call the nursery to see how they are getting on a few times in the first week, or to bring a photo of them in to work if it helps. You need to do what is right for you and your family!