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How to settle your child into nursery and school

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A happy, confident child is every parent's goal. We find the solutions to the questions you want to ask about your child starting nursery and school.

Starting a new nursery or going to school for the first time can be hard. There's a new environment to adjust to, rules to be followed and a uniform to wear. It can be even harder for the parents to let their child grow up! Here are the answers to some common worries.

How will my child cope with being away from me?

If your child has never been away from you, then they might be upset when you’re not around. Before they start, try leaving them with relatives or friends for short amounts of time, such as 15 or 20 minutes, and increase it gradually. If your child is old enough to understand, you can explain to them that you’re going away for a short time and will be returning.
Your child will have some short induction sessions at nursery and you may be able to stay for some or all of the time to help ease them in. Many young children will cry when you drop them off at class, but the majority recover quickly once they’re distracted. 

“The first few days of school can be upsetting for even the most sociable of children, " says Dr Sonya Wallbank, child psychologist and owner of Midlands-based nurseries and after school clubs Capellas.  Although the idea of 'big school' has been an appealing thought over the summer, the reality of new routines and expectations can be overwhelming and results in children acting out of their usual character.  The important thing for parents is to try and manage their own anxiety.

Separation anxiety or the emotions that you feel when apart from one another are not just something that children experience; you may find yourself just as upset at letting your little one go off to school as it marks changes in your life also.”

Dr Wallbanks's tips to help manage starting-school anxiety

  • Try to think about the routines that you will establish for your child at the beginning and end of the day.
  • Remind your child of how much they are going to learn and enjoy their day. Let them know you will be thinking about them and how excited you will be to hear about their day when you see them after school.
  • Take time at the end of the day to communicate. Don't worry if you get very little in response to your questions as often children need to spend time processing their experiences and may not feel like talking. The important thing is to show them that you are interested in how they have got on. Don't forget to share your own day at the same time so your little one can be thinking about what you do when you are not together.

What should I pack in my child's bag?

Nursery children will need a change of clothes (including socks, pants and plimsolls) in case they get messy or have an accident.
Reception children will need a PE kit and a lunch bag (if they’re having packed lunches). Many schools also ask children to have a book bag and a water bottle. A spare change of clothes and a waterproof jacket may be useful, too.

What should my child be able to do before they start school?

Children should be able to do tasks, such as go the toilet by themselves, use a knife, fork and spoon to eat, zip or button their jacket and put on their shoes. Some children can write their name but it’s not necessary.

What else can I do to prepare my child for school?

Young children love predictability so you’ll need to introduce them to the idea of a changing routine. If you can, visit the nursery or school a few times before they start. Take some time to explain what they’ll be doing and what their day will be like but try not to overload them with information or they might become anxious. Talking about the new school little and often will help.

What should I do if my child doesn’t want to go?

Every child has mornings when they’re reluctant to leave the house. Often it’s because they’re tired, or maybe something difficult happened the previous day. Gentle encouragement and a few extra hugs might help, and they’re often fine once you’ve left.
“If you think your child is not settling in as they should be, then talking to them about their worries is a good place to start," says Dr Wallbank. "Providing them with plenty of reassurance about how starting school can be a tricky time is a great way to open up your child about how they are feeling."

School starters can be too young to articulate their worries, so a chat with the teacher might help identify the problem and develop a strategy to improve the situation. "Share your concerns with the school as they will be experienced in supporting you and your child to settle in," suggest Dr Wallbank. "Try to pay attention to how your child is reacting when you drop them off and pick them up. How do they respond when you ask them questions about how school is going or what friends they are playing with? Providing them with plenty of affection and reassurance about how starting school can be a tricky time is a great way to open up your child about how they are feeling."

How do I find out how my child is doing?

Many pre-schools and schools arrange a catch-up or parents’ evening in the first term. Many nurseries do this too, and some will give you a sheet at the end of each day or week which summarises what your child has been doing. If you want to have a proper chat with the staff then arrange a time you can meet. It’s much better than trying to talk to them at a busy time.
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