Preparing PARENTS for school

If you’re looking for articles related to starting home-based care, preschool or school, scrolling the internet will find you a mountain of information about how to support children - but what about their parents?

The start of this year has brought our family many new experiences. My son recently begun his school journey and my daughter will probably start either home-based care or preschool as I look into going back to work. Beginning a new chapter is an emotional time and I have definitely experienced both the highs and lows that come with it. One moment I’m riding the joy and excitement of our next adventure and the next my heart sinks into my stomach as I realise this means having to let them go.

Why is it so hard to let go?

Having our babies, especially our first borns, leave us to start preschool or school is a huge leap for any parent. There are so many feels to process, not only on the big day itself but during the lead up and in the days to follow.

While few parents fly through this transitional period with ease, many find it hard. Some parents even experience feelings similar to “Empty Nest Syndrome”. Empty Nest Syndrome isn't a clinical diagnosis but a phenomenon in which parents experience sadness and loss when their children leave home.

We want to support our children and encourage them to be independent, however this experience is often emotionally challenging for us and can result in feelings such as anxiety. Anxiety is a natural human response and it serves a purpose. It’s a physiological response from a brain that thinks there’s danger, and for some of us there is danger in separation and a fear of the unknown.

We have no control over what happens while our children are out of our care. The complex social world of preschool/school can seem like a lot to take on. The change of environment, people, and routines, evokes a mixture of feelings. We want to stay positive but part of us isn’t quite sure if they (or we) are ready. Many of us know deep inside that there is nothing to worry about but our brains tell us otherwise. As parents we are wired towards keeping our children safe, but the little voice inside questions whether we can do that if they are not with us.

It takes an enormous amount of trust to leave our loves with someone else. In my experience as both a teacher and a parent one of the easiest ways to create a calm transition for our children is to ensure it is also a calm transition for us, their parents. With that in mind here are some suggestions on how we can make this new and exciting journey easier for all of us.

Our brains are in sync -

Did you know that the human brain is designed to read and respond to the social cues of others? This helps us connect and communicate.

There is a class of nerve cells in the brain known as “mirror” neurons, which respond in synchrony with the behaviour of others. These neurons in our brains can actually “mirror” the behaviour of someone we are with or watching.

This means that our children’s brains literally read and respond to our cues. So when we are sending out signals of nervousness, anxiety, and worry those signals get turned into patterns of nervousness, anxiety, and worry in their brains. If we're feeling uneasy about our children starting their new school journey, they are likely follow suit. If we are feeling emotionally overwhelmed by the transition, then they are more than likely to feel the same.

Basically their brain reads and responds to ours and our brain reads and responds to theirs, making the emotions we are experiencing almost contagious.

As a parent we are our child’s first and most important teacher. They look to us to understand if people, places and situations are safe. When we develop positive feelings of confidence, trust, and safety surrounding our children starting school, it helps them to do the same.

Develop an attitude of gratitude -

Sometimes our minds can pull us into an endless vortex of concern. We start to become consumed by all of the things that could go wrong and become blind to all of the things that could go right. Gratitude helps us see clearly again. Think of the positives, think about your child’s strengths, the things you love about the school, the things you admire about your child’s teachers, and the benefits of the environment they will be in.

Ease your fears -

Make time to familiarise yourself with the school and the staff by taking the opportunity to attend meetings and visits. It will help you ease your concerns about this new and unfamiliar territory and hopefully put your mind at rest.

We need to find comfort in the decisions we have made, after all we made them with our children’s best interests at heart. The more calm and assured we are about the choice to send our children to school, the more confident and secure our children will be. If you are having second thoughts or are unsure for any reason it helps to reflect on why this might be. We all have feelings. It’s a good idea to let them out, talk about them, and address both the excitement and the fear. Everything can be brought back into perspective when we open up. We are all here for each other. The teachers are there for you too. If you have any questions, concerns, or need some advice I’m sure that they would be more than happy to help.

Managing emotions -

If you find that you become overwhelmed by emotion take time to centre yourself and do some of the things that you find calming. You might like to experiment with mindfulness, meditation, yoga, progressive relaxation, essential oils, music, getting active or going for a walk, immersing yourself in nature, deep belly breathing, relaxing in water, journalling or talking to someone who will listen and hold space for you without judgement.

Avoid the unknown -

Know what to expect! Unpredictability and the unknown make everyone feel anxious and therefore less able to process information accurately. It helps to get just the right amount of information; too much may feel overwhelming but not enough and you may be left feeling unsure and unprepared, so plan ahead and get organised.

Take advantage of opportunities where you can become familiar with the space and those within it. Research stresses how critical an effective transition is for a child’s development of self worth, confidence, resilience and ongoing success. Use this time to build relationships. As children observe you interacting with their new teacher/s they begin to create a sense of trust which supports them as they settle into learning. These visits are just as important for parents as they are for children. It gives us a little insight into the day and allows us a chance to see how our children will interact with both the environment and those within it.

Develop a partnership -

The most important thing for any family when starting preschool or school is to develop connected relationships. Sometimes though, teachers pour all of their energy into creating these special relationships with children and parents can be left feeling a little out of the loop. In this case reach out to your child’s teacher, I can assure you it is not intentional.

When we make an effort to establish effective partnerships we build positive relationships based on openness and trust. In a way we become co-teachers, each of us with the ability to offer a different perspective. This relationship becomes a vital connection in ensuring children learn, grow and thrive within a community dedicated to allowing them become the best possible versions of themselves.

Connected communication -

When communication comes primarily through our children, parents and teachers don’t have an opportunity to build a relationship which can be the cause of many problems. At times it can feel like we are on completely different pages, but when it all comes down to it, we are both on the same team, we both want the same thing.

Our discussions become the link between home and school. With regular, connected communication we can discuss information about what and how our children are learning and more importantly how they are coping socially and emotionally. It often goes without saying that “no news is good news” but establishing communication that is founded on sharing balanced information, both when our children are thriving and when they are needing a little extra support is essential. Make the most of opportunities where you can come together to share information and touch base with teachers, even for a few minutes, to find out how things are going. The beginning and end of the day can often feel rushed but by making ourselves available to each other we can create a detailed picture of our children - who they are, their strengths, their interests outside of school, and their attitude toward school.

Listen to your heart -

Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish our worries from a genuine need for concern. As we start to adjust these big feelings we are experiencing begin to fade and things get easier. If your feelings persist and you find yourself in emotional discomfort there may be a reason for it. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to education and another option may be more suitable for your family. In all situations listen to your heart.

Not all parents find starting school difficult but for those that do - you’re not alone. It can often be a period of vulnerability which needs to be treated delicately.

Overtime parents have shared with me their experiences of starting school and I have discovered that it is pretty normal for us to go though this rise and fall of emotions. A mixture of feelings should be expected and we can make it easier on ourselves by acknowledging that IT IS HARD TO LET GO.

We can’t predict what will happen on that first day of school but we can help our children navigate this time by ensuring that we are ready for what ever the day may bring.

The way we ACT is often

influenced by the way we FEEL.

A child’s emotional state directly affects how they think and learn. When we experience positive feelings, we have a “clear mind”, but when we are upset or distressed we can’t “think straight”. The connections between emotion and learning are complex but one of the best ways we can support our children to become emotionally calm and centred is to be calm and centred ourselves.

The world gets bigger when a child starts school and school anxiety can hit anyone. It affects children, parents, siblings and even teachers but if we tread with care and give these transitions the time, attention, and love they need, we can hopefully ensure that we all get off to the best possible start.

It would be great if every child’s first day went perfectly but that’s not always the case. Some children settle in straight away and some need a little longer and a little more support. When we connect with each other, communicate and develop our relationships through partnerships, together we create a supportive and trusting community for our children, which is what they need the most.

Have hope. Some of us need more time than others to adjust - but eventually we all get there.