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Coping with first day jitters


Sherie Holder-Olutayo

Coping with first day jitters

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Being a parent, you encounter a lot of firsts. That first smile, their first steps, their first words. But there is nothing more challenging for a parent than their child’s first day at school.
The tears, the separation anxiety, trying to calm your own internal fears can put a damper on a day that will be permanently imprinted on your and your child’s psyche.
It’s a rite of passage that all kids must go through. We’re not discounting the difficulties and the unsureness children face. But rest assured, parents face just as much angst as children do.
Tomorrow starts the first day of school for a majority of students in Barbados and many parents will walk away from classrooms after goodbyes and hugs with a million thoughts running through their heads: will she be okay? Is the teacher going to watch over him?
“I worry a lot by nature,” says Althea Greene-Forde whose son is starting primary school for the first time. “I’m concerned about him fitting in all over again. I’m worried about the bullying that goes on sometimes in schools. It’s really hard.”
Though Althea’s son had been immersed in pre-school and adjusted relatively well, she is still extremely concerned about how well he will transition to primary school.
Marcia Graham, director of Paredos, recognises the challenges many parents and their little ones face starting a new school but she also suggests that parents be proactive for their children and themselves.
“The first day of school always signals a lot of change whether it’s pre-school or primary school, secondary school or university,” Graham says. “It’s going to be a new experience, a new attitudes and approaches. There’re some people who cope really well with change and for others change can be very stressful.
“So depending on the type of child you have, some are raring to go whereas other children are timid and cautious. Parents have got to prepare them physically but give them some mental preparation as well.”    
Many parents locally have already started the mental preparation by constantly reminding them that they are going to a new school with different requirements.
“My biggest concern is that they are coming from a very sheltered environment and going to one where they have to do everything for themselves,” Althea said. “So I’ve been telling him it isn’t ‘auntie this’ anymore and that he has to say ‘Excuse me, sir or ma’am’ if he has to go to the bathroom.”
Fostering that sense of independence in children who have been catered to and pampered can make overprotective parents worry about how well their kids will thrive in their new environment.
“By this time parents would have gone to the orientation at the new schools but it’s important to . . . take them to the new school, walk around the grounds and get them familiar with their new surroundings,” says Graham.
She also stresses that this preparation includes kids who will be entering secondary school.
“You’ve also got to pay special attention if your child is going from primary to secondary school and will be the only child in his class going to a particular secondary school,” Graham said, “because there is no one there that the child knows to bond with.”
Graham added that parents needed to understand that it was a lot of change for children to deal with and settling down and familiarising themselves with their new space will take time.
Joyann Harris whose four-year-old son Mali will be starting primary school shares many of the same worries and concerns. But besides those worries, he suffers with chronic asthma.
    “He’s asthmatic and the teachers are not really supposed to dispense medication . . . so I have to be on the ball,” Harris said. “Because of the heat he starts to wheeze, so I’m really concerned about him.
“I must send his epipen as well in case he eats something he’s not supposed to. But I worry about whether the teacher will call me or give it to him. I know I have to make things abundantly clear in terms of his health.”
In cases such as this Graham recommends that the parent establish a good relationship with the teacher early on – making her aware of the child’s health concerns as well as her own.
“I’m worried about bullying because the bigger kids know the routine and these little ones are really sheltered,” Harris said.
“He’s coming from an environment where he got one-on-one support and now he is going to be immersed with a lot more children and the teacher may not have the time to spend with him.”
On this, Graham said: “Bullying was always around but it’s in a different form now. When you left your old school you were with the bigger boys at the top of your school. Now you’re going into a new environment where you will be at the bottom and may be picked on because you have the things maybe some of them don’t have.
“Parents need to talk with their children, listen to them, find out what’s happening at school and if bullying is taking place – do something fast. You need to inform the school and make sure the principal and teachers address it.”
To help offset their children’s anxiety and their own, many parents often tag along with their children, introducing themselves to the teachers and making sure their children are settled before leaving.
“You as parents have to get to know the people and learn the environment really quickly,” says Graham. “You also should learn the route. You should talk to the guard at the gate, talk to the groundsman, all of the people who are going to have contact with your child.
“You have to have an intimate relationship with people in your child’s school environment. And you’ve got to pray and trust God and trust that He will watch over your child.”environment with new people and new

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