Most Parents would agree that they hardly ever stop worrying about their children. I don't mean acute 'oh my goodness he's going to die!' worry, I'm talking about the much lower level, on-going concerns that plague all of us ... is my child the right height and weight? Should she be doing that at her age? Is he doing well at school?
This last one is important because school plays such a significant part in children's lives. If your child is not doing well and is not happy, it will blight not only your child's life but, for as long as it continues, yours as well. No parent wants to be dragging their child into school every morning, then spending the day worrying about how they getting on before being met by a grumpy or tearful child as they come through the school gates or your front door... knowing that the next day it will all start again.
GOOD NEWS... IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE LIKE THIS! Based on my 35 years experience of being a teacher (22 as a Headteacher), here are five things you can EASILY DO NOW to help keep your child HAPPY and FEELING secure at school - which will give YOU one less thing to worry about!!
1- Talk to the Teacher (and other Parents!)
Basically, your child's teacher will only want three things ... they will want your child to do as well as possible, they will want your child to be happy and they will want you to be happy! The best way to be reassured about this - and to make sure it happens - is to develop a good relationship with your child's teacher. They are probably never going to be your best mate, but equally so, they are not the enemy! They will generally be very happy to talk to you and about your child (this is part of their job) although timing may take a little sensitivity on your part. 'Hello, how are you?' is always welcome, whereas important issues are best left to a time when you can see the teacher is not busy trying to organise and settle 30 children.
Also, the key word here is 'talk'. No matter how angry you are about something someone in the school has or has not done, going in shouting and hurling abuse and threats is not going to help. It will simply make the school wary of dealing with you in any way beyond what is absolutely necessary, and this is not going to aid a happy and harmonious relationship. If you or your child are unhappy about something, find an appropriate time for a calm discussion - in the first instance this should be with the class teacher.
If you are then still not happy arrange to speak to a more senior member of staff - BUT the rule is see the class teacher first and give them to chance to explain or put things right. The Headteacher probably will not know the details of your complaint and going 'straight to the top' will just make your child's teacher feel you do not trust them - again, not conducive to a positive relationship!).
Talking to other Parents is also a great way to keep your child settled at school because it will often lead to invitations for your child to come and play after school or come to birthday parties - in other words your child will have friends, other children they know and like.
2 - Do your homework
There are 24 hours in the day, but your child will spend only about quarter of those at school. What happens in the other 18 or so hours is down to you and is crucial to how well your child settles at school each day.
It should be obvious that a child cannot be happy at school if they arrive tired and hungry ... except that this is exactly the state some do arrive in! Of course there will be nights when a child, for whatever reason, does not sleep properly, and mornings when they do not eat their breakfast. The aim must be to make this the exception, not the rule. I can recall too many children who would routinely fall asleep during assembly (and not because my assemblies were boring!); and often when a child was feeling ill, it would transpire that the stomach ache was due to nothing more than hunger.
During the normal school week, bedtimes need to be rigorously enforced; and then in the morning, your child will be able to get up in time for a proper breakfast so that they arrive at school fully fuelled, feeling great and ready to go!
On the subject of food, it is worth discussing and agreeing with your child the contents of their packed lunch so that, still bearing in mind those school rules, you include things they will actually eat, rather than things you think they should eat. This will help to make lunch time something they look forward to rather than dread and will also save them the worry of disposing of the uneaten lunch. Much to the dismay of school caretakers who have to deal with the subsequent blockages, trying to flush the evidence down the toilet seems to be the most popular tactic.
Similarly, if there have been any family disagreements with either you or other family members, try to resolve these before leaving your child at school - they will not be able to function normally if they are feeling angry or upset. When you leave them it should be with a smile and a hug, not with threats or indifference.
3- Know - and keep- the school rules
This might sound like an odd thing to be saying to a Parent, but the fact is your child will only be able to adhere to certain school rules if you enable them to do so. We're not talking about things like 'no running in the corridors' or 'always share things' - keeping those sorts of rules is down to your child. But the school might also have rules that rely on your co-operation; for example
Packed lunches (again!) - certain items may be discouraged or even banned, particularly if the school is trying to promote a healthy eating policy or is concerned about nut allergies.
Uniform - the school may have a particular colour of sweatshirt or style of dress it recommends.
P.E kit - for health, safety and comfort reasons, your child will probably be expected to change for P.E. so on certain days they will need trainers and shorts etc to change into; and if your child is fortunate enough to attend a school where swimming is on the curriculum participation is impossible without the appropriate gear.
Reading books - it is very unlikely the school will operate a totally free for all system where children just have any book they fancy. Make sure you understand the school's system for choosing and changing books so that where you are involved you help your child to make the right choices.
Of course, you could take the stance of 'my child will eat/wear /read what I want them to' ... but this is not fair on your child because it is them, not you, that will feel singled out and different to the other children. The Staff may not say anything directly to your child but the other children will. You may not agree with a particular rule, but the school will have it for a reason. If you are really unhappy about a rule or do not understand it, then re-read tip 1 above!
4 - Do some teaching
I don't necessarily mean reading, writing and maths. Obviously, it will help if your child already likes books and can count when they start school, but wherever your child is academically is where the school will pick things up from and the teacher will expect and be planning for a wide range of abilities in the class.
The really useful teaching you could do is more related to what might be termed 'social' rather than 'academic' skills. If your 4 year old child can for example, dress themselves, put on their own coat, use a knife and fork and use the toilet properly, then this will help them enormously, because it will mean they are self reliant. A surprising number of children do not have these skills when they start school and waiting for an adult to tie up your shoes or pull up a zip can make school seem like a very frustrating place to be.
For older children, your social skills training might involve, for example, discussion about appropriate use of the internet, the importance of please and thank you or the unacceptability of bullying. You don't have to sit children down and lecture them about these things - there will be opportunities where they arise naturally. Taking children out somewhere (and I don't mean to the Supermarket!) is also a great way to do some incidental teaching, and this does not need to involve spending lots of money. A simple trip to a museum or a walk along the canal can be a great way to spark conversation about what you see and/or life in general.
5- Keep an eye on the clock
Nothing boosts anxiety levels like being late - remember how you felt last time you were sat going nowhere on the motorway when you should have been at the airport half an hour ago! Your child will not think school is a good place to go if they are literally being dragged there and shoved into the classroom when all the other children are already there, with no time to say a proper goodbye to you.
The start of the day is also often when the teacher will talk to the class about what is happening that day - if your child is not there they will miss important information, making the new school seem like a confusing and unpredictable place to be.
So, make sure everyone is up in time for a relaxed breakfast, a calm journey to school and a proper 'have a good day' when the doors open. If your child is old enough to take themselves to school then you need to ensure they leave the house on time.
Then, at the end of the day... make sure you are on time! As adults, we are conditioned to waiting - waiting for trains, waiting for a phone call, waiting for the builder ... we just accept waiting and often expect to do it so it does not bother us. Children do not have this same tolerance of waiting and if you are not there when the doors open at the end of the day or at the end of an after school club, this will upset them.
I knew parents who would always have an excuse for arriving ten or twenty minutes late to collect their child. Or even worse, the child would be waiting in the school office while we phoned around trying to locate the parent or someone on their emergency contact list ... with the child becoming more and more anxious with each passing minute. It sounds dramatic but your child may even begin to think that you are never coming back for them, because something has happened to you or you have just forgotten them! The result? Again, school starts to seem like a scary and unpredictable place where it is better not to be.
If you know you are going to be late on a particular day make arrangements for this. For example, can someone else that you and your child know pick them up? You must tell your child about the arrangement so that they know what is happening AND you must tell the school about the arrangement and exactly who is collecting your child because the teacher will not hand your child over to someone who, to them, is a random stranger!
If you are unexpectedly delayed contact the school. Provided you don't make a habit of it they will usually understand and can at least reassure your child that you are coming for them, and look after them until you do.
So there we are - 5 things you can begin doing straight away to help keep your child happy and on track. If you have read this and are thinking 'Yes yes, all very well but my child is still not happy' then please contact me - visit stevescottcoaching.co.uk or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In any case, I would love to hear how you and your children are getting on. Good luck!