Top Tips for Starting School – With Parenting Expert John Sharry

Is your child starting school or preschool this year? You worried about how they will settle? It’s a big step for children and their parents, and can often be quite daunting. Parenting expert, Dr.John Sharry, of Solution Talk shares his top tips for starting school in a Question & Answer session with Mykidstime Parents.

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Q1. My Son Won’t Try on his Uniform

“My son is starting school on September 1st. He is 5 and has Down Syndrome. For the last week or so I have been trying to get him to try on his school uniform, but he refuses. Any help on getting over this hurdle would be most appreciated? I have shown him his twin in his uniform but still won’t try it on.”

Solution Talk: “What is your sense of why he does not like his uniform? Some children have a clothing sensitivity (to textures and seams and the fit etc) – you can get round this by noticing what textures he likes and adapting.

If it has become an issue between you, then it’s best to take a step back and try again at another time. Being positive makes a difference – singing together as you put it on! Hiding the clothes round a room and having a game finding them. Or you could do up a poster of him and his twin and make cut outs of each part of his uniform (shirt, tie etc) and every time they put a piece of clothing on they run over and blue tack on the poster piece. Also, if it’s a big issue, maybe for the first day let him go with maybe part of the uniform.”

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Q2. My Daughter is Quite Shy

crying-girl“My daughter starts school next week and is quite shy. On the first day of school parents have to let the kids line up outside the classroom and are not allowed speak to the teacher. I am afraid that my daughter will be very upset having to go into the classroom without me as she can be quite clingy – what is the best way to manage this?

She is being quite positive about school when we chat about it, but from previous experience, I am afraid that she will be very upset and refuse to go into the classroom without me. Any advice would be very much appreciated!”

Solution Talk: “I’d check carefully the school guidelines, as they do often make allowances for nervous children and parents! I’m surprised that they don’t let you drop her into the classroom. But, if this is the case, then it is best to be as positive as possible about how the school do it (don’t let your daughter see your anxiety or frustration). Then explain the steps to your daughter in a positive upbeat way and how everyone will line up and walk into school and how much fun this will be.

One of my favourite techniques to explain routine and events to children is to use a picture chart, whereby you explain the steps of going to school with a sequence of pictures and show it to her much like a happy story.”

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Q3. Toilet in Classroom has Noisy Hand Dryer

“It’s possibly a little to be worrying about, but the toilet in the classroom has one of those air dryers to dry their hands. It’s the ONE thing my daughter has a fear of. She refuses completely to use one and almost has a heart attack when they go off! How can I address this with her? I fear she won’t wash her hands at all at school now!”

Solution Talk : “In the first instance, you could not make this an issue at all and see how she gets on. Going to school is a different context and she may become less afraid when she sees the other kids using it without a problem – positive peer pressure! If it does become an issue, you could pack a self drying soap in her bag and explain to teacher, while you also try to help her get used to them outside school.”

Q4. How Best To Talk about School

Mum and child“I haven’t spoken about school that much all summer, because everyone we meet seems to ask him instead. All of a sudden it’s now just over a week to go. What parts especially do you suggest talking about?”

Solution Talk: “The emotional tone that you use to explain things make all the difference – the more upbeat the better.

If he needs specific details you could use a picture chart, whereby you explain the steps of going to school and all the things with a sequence of pictures and show it to him much like a happy story – you can also get some good books in the shops to read to him about the adventure of going to school.”

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Q5. My Son Has Osteogenisis Imperfecta

“My son is almost 4 and has a medical condition called Osteogenisis Imperfecta (the slightest thing could cause him to dislocate or fracture a bone, and he suffers extreme fatigue) and because of this condition he needs to have a full time PA assigned to him for preschool. He starts next Wednesday and I am so nervous for him.

What would be the best way to integrate him as much as possible into the class with the other kids? I don’t want him to stand out as being different, but how do you make a bunch of preschoolers aware that my son needs more gentle handling, that he needs to be at the back of the queue to avoid being knocked over and that you can’t play rough around him? Is this expecting too much from a group of very young boys?”

Solution Talk: “That does sound like a challenge to get right. I think the key will be liaising with his preschool teacher and his PA. They should assist you in the best way to help him integrate and to make goals around his mixing with the kids. Is there also a national support group for the condition who may have more specific support?”

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Q6. How Can I Prepare him for Yard Play?

kindergarten-kids playing_yard“My son is starting school next week. He is four. Recently, he has gone very odd about playing with other children. He will now only insist on playing with one child at a time if there are two children there or more he will not go out to play.

I’m worried about him at lunch time in school. How should I prepare him for this as I’m worried he will not play and be left out at lunchtime?”

Solution Talk: “The yards for first years are usually very protected and the teachers look out for them. Help your son identify one or two other children he might already know and can play with”

Q7. Daughter Cries Every Morning I Drop her to Creche

“My daughter cries every morning I drop her to creche – she goes 2 days a wk. She is fine after I go but is there anything i can do to stop this? She has been going for the past 2yrs and cries every morning! She is 3!”

Solution Talk: “Quite a common issue. The key is whether she is happy after you leave and whether she is fully participating in creche and school. if so then it will probably fade over time. However worth checking if there is anything specific that causes her to be upset (away from the situation) or is it just nerves or a habit that will fade.”

Lots more useful School Resources in our Back to School Section

Q8. How Do I Stop My Own Emotions?

Postnatal Depression“My daughter will start school next week and she’s excited. I want everything positive especially on her first day. The thing is, I can be emotional (I cried buckets during her last day in her playschool). And I don’t want her to see me crying but I really can’t help it. What can I do?”

Solution Talk: “Well your daughter seeing some of your tears in not necessarily a bad thing – you can explain to her that they are tears of pride and and say how happy you are to see her going into school etc. Though be careful about overwhelming her with your emotion! Leave space to notice and listen to her feelings on the day too!”

Q9. Daughter’s Best Friends in other Class

“My daughter is starting Junior Infants and the class is being split due to size. I have a strong suspicion she may not have any of the girls she was in playschool the past year with, only boys she already knows. How do I prepare her for that possibility – that her ‘best friends’ may all be in the other room without upsetting her?”

Solution Talk: “In the first instance, you could ask the school if it is possible that she can stay in the same class as her friends. However if not pssible, dont assume it will be an issue with your duaghter – just explain matter of factly who will be in her class and where the girls she knows will be. Emphasise the positive opportunities to make new friends – there will be so many new things in school so this may not be an issue”

Q10. My Son Starting School in France

So you little one in starting school header“My son is starting school in France in September. He will be 3 in November and is the only English-speaking child in his class. He has been in creche in Ireland until July and he loves it, any advice on preparing him for the move to a new language.

We were told that French in school and English at home is the best way, he knows some words and I have been teaching him the basics so he knows if he needs anything. Any advice would be great”

Solution Talk: “I am assuming you are both English-speaking at home and that you are staying long term in France? Though it might be harder for him in the short term, children are excellent are picking up new languages in school and preschool especially when they are so young. You can support this by speaking some French to him at home and having French books/ nursery rhymes at home as well as English ones as well as supporting him mixing with French children.”

Q11. Tips to ask Headmistress when Starting School in France

“We are both Irish and speak English at home although both of us don’t have French, we are slowly learning. My husband has been based over here for last 18 months but all his work is in English, just wondered if there was any tips.

We’ve gone down to the school and he is very excited, also can you recommend any questions that I should ask the head mistress to help him, as we are meeting her next Friday”

Solution Talk: “Ask her how she plans to help him settle in and learn French?  Ask her how she will ensure he gets on socially with the other children etc”

Q12. 5 Yr Old Nervous about Starting School

fed up toddler“My son is starting school next week. He is 5. He had told me he is very nervous about it. He went to my mum’s creche prior to this and got very upset on graduation day. He thinks he is leaving both his granny and his routine is completely changing. He doesn’t know anyone in his class and he is particularly difficult when it comes to dealing with change.

He is becoming more aggressive during the summer (I think it’s related to being nervous about school) and he is flat out refusing to do things related to school now e.g. buy a school bag, pencil case etc , despite how much fun I try to make it. I am worried that he will not react well to school and also that in the coming weeks, he may react aggressively to other children (out of fear) and end up in trouble early on in school or be ostracised by the other kids. Any advice is appreciated.”

Solution Talk: “It is good you are sensitive to his feelings because you are probably spot on about how he is feeling sad at leaving granny and having a new change. Acknowledge all this and reassure him he will see granny again ( involve her in some of preparations?)

Don’t worry too much about him not wanting to buy the bag or pencil – some children dont like to prepare too much – he could just arrive and settle reasonably well if you explain the steps to him. Do however, manage his aggression and insist on the rule of being polite at home and have consequences for this (and reward him for good behaviour) – the more this is managed at home the more he will manage at school – see my book “Positive Parenting” for ideas on this”

Q13. Afraid of my Boy having Toilet ‘Accidents’

“My little boy is starting preschool next Monday, he was 3 in May and has been potty trained almost a year now. I’ve explained to him about asking his teacher when he needs to go to the toilet, wash hands etc.

Lately I find I have to remind him to go to the toilet or ask if he needs to go and he seems to have the occasional wet patch on his trousers. I’m nervous that he’ll have a lot of ‘accidents’ in school! Any tips would be great?”

Solution Talk: “At three needing reminders to go to the toilet is very normal. His preachool teachers should be well used to this and you can flag it to them. Give the teacher a couple of spare pants and trousers.”

About Dr. John Sharry

john sharry solution talk logoParenting expert, Dr.John Sharry is a regular contributor to the Irish Times and runs the website and company Solution Talk. A psychotherapist and social worker, Dr. Sharry is the author of 10 books on parenting and positive psychology. Follow Dr. John Sharry on Facebook & Twitter.

Over to you! Share your tips about starting school in the comments below.

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This website was created by Jill Holtz and Michelle Davitt, both of whom are mothers of young children. Jill and Michelle decided to create this resource themselves, and launched in 2007.