Expert tips on settling your child into school

Girl in uniform with backpack
Antonia Chitty, author of ‘What To Do When Your Child Hates School’, gives her best advice on settling your child at school.

The early days at school can be stressful for parents and children. Don't despair – there are things you can do to make it easier. Try these six quick tips:

  1. Start by chatting about school in general terms. Point out other children on their way to school and read stories about going to school. Your local library will have some if you ask the children’s librarian.
     
  2. Next, get your child involved in choosing their uniform. Take the opportunity to ask them open questions about school – you might get some interesting insights into their hopes and fears.
     
  3. Practise getting the uniform off and on, so that your child can cope when changing for sports. Choose clothes and shoes with simple fastenings.
     
  4. Many children are worried about school lunches. Ask for the menu in advance and talk about how fun it will be eating with your child’s new friends. If your child has packed lunches, pack them together.
     
  5. Most schools settle new children into Reception gradually, offering short days or mornings to start. If you feel your child won’t keep up with the schedule offered, ask the school if you can collect them early.
     
  6. Get to know your child’s teacher well right from the beginning, and let them know if there are any issues that are worrying you.

Dealing with separation anxiety

If your child struggles when you try to leave them at school, there are a couple of options. The simplest one – which may be toughest – is to say goodbye firmly and cheerfully and leave your child at school as planned. The majority of four and five year olds will settle within minutes. You can phone the school later to check.
 
If after the first few days or weeks your child still isn’t happy at being left at school, make an appointment to talk to the teacher. She may have a range of strategies to suggest. For example, some parents and children find it helpful if the parent stays for longer in the mornings.
 
As well as talking to the teacher, listen to your child. When my daughter started school I’d ask her a couple of questions after each session, “What was good at school today?” and “Was there anything not so good about school?” If you find the same issues are coming up every day, mention them to the teacher.

Help for the youngest in the year

Some children are just not ready to start school with their peers. Many local authorities now offer part time nursery places for children from three and Reception places after their fourth birthday. If all children start in September, some of those with summer birthdays may find it hard to keep up. 
 
If you have concerns about your child’s readiness for school, it’s still important to fill in school application forms at the same time as everyone else. Once you have been offered a place, request that your child starts later in the school year, and the local authority should keep their place open for them. Ask for this to be confirmed in writing, and remember that children must start education the term after their fifth birthday.
 
What to Do When Your Child Hates School by Antonia Chitty is published by White Ladder Press, £9.99.