Little boy drawing on chalkboard at school

Cool for school: How to prepare your kids for their first day

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1 January 1970

Reading Time: 5 minutes

First days can be scary for kids, but these tips can help them learn to calm their nerves.

As is the case for so many families, our “number two child” found the first day of school a breeze. After giving me a huge hug, he launched himself off with a wave and strode across the playground to find his classroom.

My eldest looked on, aghast! As one who’d enjoyed the routine of mum walking her to class each morning and giving her a hug before leaving her with her friends, she found it very strange that my son would not expect exactly the same, and promptly ran off to help him navigate the potential trials and tribulations of a bustling midterm morning.

Beyond the differences of the individuals within your whānau, the second child (and third, and fourth and so on) can find things like the first day of school so much easier. They’ve often been onto school grounds many times already – at school drop offs, assemblies, performances, camp nights, galas, etc. When they’re familiar with something the transition can be so much easier, especially if they’ve had a fun time there already.

Of course, it really does depend on the child. Some kids will always sail into new challenges, barely batting an eyelid, while others may fret and become anxious days before a new experience – that’s the beauty of us all being the unique, amazing, and wonderfully diverse individuals that we are.

Little girl holding hands with parents
Many kids need a helping hand to get settled in on the big day, while others will be more than ready to start their new adventure.

We’ll often react to things in different ways, even as adults. But, luckily, there are lots of simple things you can do to help ease those first day jitters for your tamariki, whatever age they might be – and these can often be useful strategies for them to have as adults, too.

1 Fun

Fun is the key to all things. While not always easy (especially if you’re finding the process hard yourself), the lighter and more fun you can make things, the better it is for everyone. Think of it as going on an adventure together, make it more of a game and take the pressure off yourself for it all to go perfectly – it probably won’t and that’s ok, it will be the same chaotic family mess that it was in my house!

2 Talk

Talk to your tamariki and listen to them. Having a conversation with our younger children can be more challenging, but the phrase “I’ve got a tummy ache” can be a good chance to begin a conversation about why they have a tummy ache; does thinking about anything make their tummy feel funny? You don’t want to put thoughts in their head that they should feel anxious about things, like going to school.

Little boy grumpy at school
Listen to your child and help them work through any worries they may have about starting school.

So, when talking about different topics, questions like “How does that make you feel?” can be really useful. Sometimes the difference between a tummy ache and “butterflies in my tummy” can simply be the explanation of how being nervous or excited can make us feel. Either way (tummy ache or butterflies), that’s perfectly normal and everything is going to be OK.

3 Storybooks

Storybooks are a great way to begin discussions about a myriad of topics, especially something like going to school. It can be helpful to read stories about other children experiencing things in the pages of a book.

4 Roleplay or just playing

Roleplay or just playing in general is another great way to explain the great unknown of a day at school, or the first day of a holiday programme, school camp or even first job. Have your kids played “school”? My two both loved “being the teacher” and would line the toys up on the floor as their students. When your kids get older, roleplaying through a daydream of what their first day of school or a job will be like can be fun and valuable.

As we get older we can pull knowledge from other experiences to get an idea of what a new opportunity might provide – but until we’ve had our first job, or job interview for that matter, we may have nothing in our memory banks that will help us prepare for that situation.

Child on climbing bars

5 Preparation

Preparation is always key. We found getting our kids involved in the preparation, a week out, really useful. It helped us, too, ensuring we had all we needed, instead of it being a last-minute panic the day before school. “What do you need when you go to school? A school bag? Great! We’ve got one of those! What else? A lunchbox, a drink bottle and a hat? Ok, let’s go and get them from the cupboard and make sure they have your name on them, ready”. As your tamariki get older, working them through a checklist and then encouraging them to create their own is really useful.

6 A weekend trip

A weekend trip to the school playground, to ride the bike along the school paths, to peek into the classrooms (if the school grounds are open) can sometimes be helpful, especially when transitioning from primary to intermediate or on to college. As you may remember, moving to a new, and often bigger school, can be just as daunting as heading into preschool as a toddler.

7 “Night before prep”

“Night before prep” can be invaluable for your older ones, too, and not just for the first day of school. Those tween/teen years, when hormones are crashing through their bodies, making it harder for them to get out of bed, making them more distracted, forgetful, and clumsy, are going to provide you all with a new set of challenges. First days can become even more angst ridden. Be gentle on yourself and your kids at this time. A hug and a reminder that they are loved and everything is going to be OK is important for you all.

8 Rescue Remedy

Rescue Remedy and Aura-Soma St Germain have both been items in my handbag, pantry and glovebox, since my babes were, well, babes, and they’ll be put to good use for the first day of school in a few weeks time – just as much for me as for them. Remember, these will often be first experiences for you too. How you act or react can impact on your children, so make sure you take time to prepare yourself as well. Everything is going to be OK!

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