Is your child starting school? A head teacher's tips for emotional wellbeing

As little children across Scotland get ready to start school for the first time, families are making all the final preparations. New uniforms, bags and pencils. But what of the emotional preparations that are needed?

We talked to Geraldine Smith, head teacher at Sandaig Primary in Glasgow's East End, who has 30 years experience of children starting school, about what parents of new primary ones can do to support their children.

A large part of the anxiety around any change is the element of the unknown – for parents as well as for children. Simply being with your child, giving them time and really listening as they talk through their new experiences will make the biggest difference. At home, try and stick to the routines you already have, as this can help your child feel comforted that not everything in their life is changing.

Where you do need to introduce new routines, for example after school care, talk to your child about what is going to happen and when, in advance. Having a simple plan, talking to your child about it, and sticking to it, can really help – e.g. “You’ll go to gran’s/after school care on these days.” Or “We’ll go to the swings/park/library on this day.”

Having a clear structure can help reassure your child and relieve anxiety. Your child will feel more prepared and you will feel more in control too.

As well as structure, think about the other two s’s – screens and sleep.

When your child comes home tired after their new school experiences, it’s really tempting to suggest some chill time in front of the screen. Screen time instantly feeds the pleasure receptors in the brain, but it also makes it hard for your child’s brain to switch off, so try and encourage alternatives to screen time. Agreeing a limit with your child beforehand and using a timer, so they can see when it’s time to switch off, can help you stick to it.

A great night’s sleep will make it easier for your child to regulate their emotions. Overtired brains go into flight or fight mode making it harder for children to cope with all of the changes involved in starting school. Children’s brains cannot function on little or no sleep, so getting a good night’s sleep is really important to help them be ready for school – mentally and emotionally.

If you don’t already have a good pre-bed routine, now is a good time to introduce one. Some parents tell us that printing off pictures of each stage of your bedtime routine – for example, pyjamas, teeth, story and bed – and putting it on your child’s bedroom wall can help with introducing new routines. One of the most helpful and comforting times for children is bed time – stories, chatting and cuddling, can really reassure children and allow them space to talk through what they are feeling and thinking.


This 'bedtime bag' is used by an Edinburgh Family Support Worker to get both teddy and child ready for bed.

As your child starts school, makes new friends and meets new people, you – their parents – are still the most important people in their lives. As well as being there to talk things through and help them make sense of their new experiences, your approach will make a big difference in how your child approaches school. Showing your child you feel confident they can handle the transition goes a long way to helping them have a positive image of school, even before they start.

It can be a hard time for parents as there are personal emotions about the transition to deal with. Be as positive as you can. Parents and carers can hugely influence their child’s experience of school. If a parent has worries, or feels negative about school, a child can recognise the signs and this can be very confusing for them. If you have any concerns at all, speak to a member of staff.

Children 1st’s Parentline service can also help parents with any worries about their child starting school. Our volunteers are here to listen with kindness and help you think things through.

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