My first day at school was a long time ago (to be honest, so was my last day!). When mum took me to the classroom, I clung to her like superglue, tears of fear and dread flowing down my cheeks. My teacher, Mrs Crooks must have somehow prised me away from mum and guided me to a spot on the blue, itchy carpet floor at the back of the classroom to play with one of those bright yellow, red and blue shape-sorter toys. I was still crying.
I don’t remember anything else about kindergarten. It probably wasn’t something I thought about much again until my first child was about to start his first day. Suddenly it all came back to me – that shy, scared little girl, hunched over to try and make myself invisible, followed by many rocky and challenging school experiences. I desperately didn’t want my children to have a similar first memory. I knew that fears were contagious, so I had to be brave and not unintentionally pass them on.
As parents we have the best of intentions when we fuss over our children, triple-checking they’ve got everything they need in their school bag, asking them multiple times if anyone was mean to them, if they went to the toilet, washed their hands and reminding them countless times not to lose their hat / jacket / lunch-bag, etc. We drill them on how not to get in trouble at school and to work hard so they don’t fall behind. We love our children and have possibly paid a small fortune to get all their school gear. But ultimately, these questions come from our own experience of school as well as perhaps how we fear we might be judged as parents.
We do all of these things because we’ve already been there. We’ve felt that knot in our stomach when someone says they don’t want to play with us, or someone calls us a mean name. We remember what it’s like to walk home from school and realise our bag is still there (or was that just me?). Perhaps you didn’t make it to the bathroom in time, got in trouble for calling out or you were too shy to ask your teacher to help you undo your drink bottle.
The thing is our children haven’t been there, so they interpret our best intentions of protection and love very differently. The human brain is not fully developed until around the mid 20’s so five- and six-year-olds don’t have the capacity to project to the future like we do. Quite often the messages they receive from our best intentions are “School is scary. The people at school are scary. I’m not safe there.”. Sadly, for some of you ready this, that’s exactly how school was for you.
I want you to know though, how you speak about school to your child is just one of multiple ingredients in the “great start to school” recipe. Some of the ingredients are completely out of your control, such as a certain world-wide pandemic or someone accidentally knocking your child over in their excitement to get to the canteen, or it pouring rain on the first day, leaving your child with wet socks and feet. So, if your child hasn’t had a smooth start to school, there is no benefit in blaming yourself.
There is nothing wrong though with some self-reflection - always with curiosity, never judgement.
Some possible questions you might like to consider:
How is my own experience of school influencing my child’s school journey?
What messages did my parents / carers give me about school when I was a child?
What messages do I want to give my child about school? What can I do and say to promote these?
If this article has caused you discomfort, brought up some horrible memories or simply sparked your reflective curiosity and you would like to organise a time to explore further, I invite you to contact me.
Phone or text: 0468853749