A major transition in the life of every child is when they progress to primary school. They go from being a big fish in a small pond to becoming a small fish in a big pond. No matter how well prepared they might be, primary school, at various stages, can seem daunting. What we want is for our child to settle into primary school as easily as they can, to make friends and begin to enjoy the experience. It is only when they feel less anxious and more settled that they will begin to learn. Too often we focus on ensuring our children are prepared academically but neglect the social skills they will need.
Every child is unique and as such will approach certain situations and experiences differently. And though many children may have similar worries, their level of concern and how long it takes them to overcome a fear may differ. As you know your child best you will know what is likely to be the bigger challenge for her. It may be speaking up when in a larger group, or it may be the organization skills needed to not lose money, books, bags and other items they will need to responsible for.
Here are some of the most common fears children experience, along with tips for overcoming them.
Will I make new friends?
One of the biggest concerns that children have when they move from kindergarten school to primary school is about making new friends. There are many more children in the class to get to know. They have to start making friends all over again. As adults, we know this will happen time and time again through life, but for your child it is a major hurdle to overcome when it does. They can feel isolated and vulnerable.
•Talk to your child honestly about how you felt when you started school, or a new job, and how you made new friends. Maybe you met your best friend who is still your friend today at school! Your enthusiasm can help your child to feel excited about the prospect of new friendships.
•Explain to your child that every other child in class is probably feeling the same.
•Think of a few phrases with your child they could use to help them communicate with their classmates. Perhaps to the student sitting next to them in class: “Hello, my name is…” “Can we go to lunch together?” The fact is, most children instinctively know what to say to each other and will work out these situations by themselves.
•If you know of other children in your neighbourhood or condo who will be attending the same school you could arrange a playdate beforehand so they meet at least one familiar face when they arrive.
How do I manage money?
Children have to be much more responsible for themselves, in many different ways, once they get to primary school. Managing money: knowing when to use it and what to spend it on, is often something they feel anxious about.
•Talk to your child about the priorities they need to spend their money on at school and the items that they do not need to purchase daily. (My friend’s daughter used to think that the book shop was a great place to shop initially!)
•Explain to your child how to keep their money safe.
•Allow your child opportunities to count out money when you are shopping, or to ask for the bill if you are eating in a restaurant. This will help build up their confidence to manage their money at school.
Who is my teacher?
Wondering about the new teacher is a common fear for many children. Will he/she be stern? Will he/she get cross with me if I forget something? Will I like the teacher?
•Reassure your child that your teacher understands how they are likely to be feeling. They may even be a mummy or daddy too with a child in the same boat!
•Arrange a visit to your school so that your child can meet their prospective teacher.
What if I get lost?
Everything in primary school seems so big! The assembly hall; the playground; endless corridors; the size of the canteen, not to mention the noise! And groups of older students. It is easy to get lost physically and feel lost emotionally.
•Be sure to attend any orientation days with your child so they gain a sense of the school buildings and its geography.
•Prompt your child to ask questions of older students or teachers if they need to.
•Local schools provide a mentor student for P1 children who serve as invaluable guides and role models. Reassure your child they will always have someone to ask if they need help.
•Eat out from time to time in a local food court and explain to your child that the school canteen will be quite similar - bustling with people, a variety of food stalls to choose from and noisy with chatter.
•If there are older siblings or cousins in the family, ask them to talk to your child about their own experiences and how they coped.
I need the toilet!
This can be quite an ordeal for many children. They have to get used to different rules about being able to leave the classroom, who to ask and where to go.
•Encourage your child not to leave asking to go to the toilet until the last minute, so they have plenty of time to get to the washrooms!
I don’t understand the schedule!
The weekly schedule can seem very complicated initially and many children worry how they will remember everything.
•Keep a copy of the school schedule on your fridge door so your child can refer to it at all times AND in their school bag.
•Encourage your child to check the schedule regularly so they know what comes next and become responsible for packing their school bag with appropriate items each day.
What if I miss the bus?
At the end of the school day, the hustle and bustle of the school environment can seem very frightening to young primary students, especially when it comes to making their way to the waiting buses.
•Advise your child to follow their teacher’s or supervising adult’s guidance at all times.
•Encourage your child to ask questions when in doubt.
•Make sure your child knows your telephone number(s) or the number of a trusted caregiver in case they miss their transport home.
•Advise your child never to leave the school premises and always to wait inside the school gates.
•Discuss your own pick-up plan with your child, just in case!
Ideally, the prospect of primary school for most children is exciting and something to look forward to, though inevitably they are bound to demonstrate some fears. Through care and patience however, we can encourage our children to put worries aside and help them gain the most from this important stage in their school life.