Dear parents,

As the first day of school is oftentimes filled with mixed, but strong emotions, both for you and your children, I have put together a few tips on how to better prepare for this:

Before school begins:

  • If you haven’t done this already, implement a routine as soon as possible – wake the child up at the same time as you would if they were going to school, establish a breakfast routine that you will be able to maintain throughout the school year if possible, and set the bedtime as you normally would for school.
  • Take a trip to the school with your child before we start school and show them around the area. If possible, print out the satellite image (map) provided by the school and make an adventure map out of it together with your child. Draw on it, put in a surprise, anything to make it a more enjoyable experience. Take your time walking around and explaining where you will be dropping them off, where they will be going in and so on.
  • Offer as much predictability as possible, even regarding what they will wear on the first day (I think we’ve all been part of very dramatic scenes caused by socks that were not to the child’s liking), what time you will be leaving the house (put a sticker on the clock to indicate said time if your child cannot read the clock yet), tell them who will be dropping them off, which route you will be taking to school and so forth. You could even make a playlist for the ride together.
  • Act out a “dropping off” scene with your child. If they are excited about this, allow them some time at pretend school, but always come back for them and act out a “picking up” scene that will be filled with hugs, kisses and cuddles. If your child is particularly scared about this situation and refuses to even act it out, do not force them. Instead, try again the next day, this time using toys.
  • Read a short story about the first day of school – this is a great way to get a shy child to express feelings about the topic. Ask them open-ended questions as you are reading, such as “What do you think of this?” “What would you do differently?”. If you notice a particular subject your child is stressed about, for example separating from you, meeting the teacher, making friends, etc. discuss it in detail, make a drawing of it and add comfort elements to make it a more pleasant image (that will also help with changing the perspective in their mind)
    • For young, Romanian-speaking children, I recommend reading “Bufnitel si prima zi de scoala” which can be ordered on both Emag and Elefant.
    • For slightly older, English-speaking children, “Jake’s first day” can be found online as a PDF.
  • When talking to your child about starting school, please keep in mind that the primary way you can comfort them is by providing space for them to express their fears and insecurities, not by offering logical counterarguments. The point would be for them to be able to state anything that they are nervous over and receiving nothing but an understanding, comforting and supporting attitude, no matter how “ridiculous” their fear is. Regardless of the subject, remember that when we validate their feelings, that does not mean we also validate the fear itself – they are two separate things. We want to tell them things such as:
    • This does sound scary, I can understand why you would feel this way.
    • I know, most children are also scared of … (normalizing the fear).
    • Tell me more about this (breaking down a “big” fear into “little” ones might make it easier for the child to handle; for example, “I am scared of school” could turn into “I am scared I’ll get lost in the building” + “I am scared I won’t make friends”)
  • Prepare in advance something to give to your child, a “part” of you which they can take with them, it could be anything from you drawing a heart on their arm to giving them a piece of your jewellery or spraying them with a bit of your perfume.

At school – dropping them off

  • Do your best to show enthusiasm, even if you are nervous for your child. Oftentimes, the child will mirror your emotion and it is important to give off the message that going to school is fun and exciting. We want to confirm to the children that the school is a great place to be at.
  • Come up with secret handshake together with them on the spot and tell them how excited you are to do this again in the afternoon.
  • Be confident, kind but firm about the separation. Depending on your child’s age, they might struggle with leaving your side and they might say things along the lines of “I don’t want to go to school” – it really isn’t about school, it is about them not wanting to separate from you, so offer them hugs and kisses and assure them that you will wait for them right there in a few hours to pick them up.
  • Be very cautious about prolonging the separation process, as it will only get more difficult. Ask a staff member to help you out if needed. While logical arguments and explanations are reasonable for older children and adults, little ones do not have the cognitive abilities to understand your reasoning, especially in a stressful situation where they are separated from you.

If your child is having a particularly difficult time separating, as harsh as it sounds, as soon as a member of staff has come over to bring the child into school, just leave. Staying will not make it easier and neither will be bargaining with them.

If you are having a particularly difficult time with the separation process, please let me know so I can offer you all the support you may need during this time.

Ilinca Vlaicu, School Counsellor at Verita International School