First day at school: tips from Parentline

Is your little one starting school for the first time this week or next? Ann from Parentline has five tips to make a big change a little easier over the next few weeks.

Two girls' feet showing first school shoes


There’s plenty of advice and information from schools about practical preparations: uniform, shoes, bag, lunch, labels on clothes. Of course it’s good to avoid being rushed at the last minute, but often we spend less time on the emotional preparation that our children need even more.

It’s important to bear in mind that none of us really like change – but change is much easier when we know what’s coming and can talk through our feelings.

Part of being prepared means thinking about ourselves and our feelings before we prepare our children.

Children will follow our lead and are very sensitive to adults’ moods and what we say and do. If you have an anxious household – can you find ways to make it calmer? Can you turn nervous energy into a sense of fun and excitement about school?

It’s a good idea to try to separate our concerns from our children’s. They might be feeling ok but find all the adults around them are building school up into a big deal.

It can be a hard time for parents as we deal with our own emotions, especially a sense of loss, or worries about our child coping out in the wider world. It’s important to talk things through with a partner or friends and to be as positive as you can.

Have conversations at the right level for their age, about the practical aspects and their feelings. You could ask what they think school’s going to be like, what are they looking forward to, do they have any questions or worries?

You could share (positive!) stories about your schooldays, or use toys and role play, or a book about school from the library as a way to open up a chat.

There might be things that seem small to us, but if anything’s unknown or uncertain – the rules around eating, or going to the toilet etc – it can really help to explain things clearly.

Talking and listening will reassure children and help to fill in any gaps. But try not to let it become the only topic you talk about!

Everyone likes to know what will happen and when, and routines are particularly important for children to feel secure and settled.

Following the freedom of the summer holidays, you could talk through all the basics: what time they’ll get up, who’ll be picking them up and when, where their bag is, where they’ll be eating and so on. If they haven’t been in the school before, you could do a trial run before their first day.

It’s a good idea if the whole family can know and accept that a new routine won’t happen by magic overnight. If the first few days are difficult – it doesn’t mean the rest of the year will be difficult.

Remind your child of all the times they’ve had to learn something new, and how it got easier with practice and time. Taking one day at a time and being consistent will help.

As your child starts school, makes new friends and learns new things, you as parents are still the most important people in their lives.

They might be able to hold it together at school – following someone else’s rules for activities and behaviour for five days in a row – but then let it all out at home. They’re likely to be very tired during the first few weeks and they may be more clingy or upset.

It’s important to be there to help them with their emotions during these early weeks, to reassure them and encourage them.

Showing your child you’re really proud and are confident they can handle school goes a long way to helping them feel positive about it, even before they start.