How to Help Prepare for the First Day of School
Back in 2017, in the full glare of the world’s media, Princess Mary and Prince Frederik faced a significant parenting milestone when they dropped their six-year-old twins, Prince Vincent and Princess Josephine off to their first day at first day at Tranegård School in Hellerup, Denmark.
The young royals looked delightful with their full-sized backpacks and snappy school uniforms outside their home at the Amalienborg Palace, in Copenhagen. While Princess Josephine beamed a thousand kilowatt smile at the paparazzi gathered outside the palace, her twin brother’s eyes filled with tears – proof that no one is immune to back-to-school jitters — even members of the royals.
With millions of children heading off to school for the first time in 2021, it’s natural for children like Prince Vincent to feel anxious when they face such a significant transition. The secret to managing this will be planning, understanding and patience. It is entirely likely that there will be a few tears shed, and ironically more often than not – the tears can come from the adults doing the drop off!
So how can parents ease the stress that can come from starting a new school year?
While it may be tempting to stay in holiday mode for as long as you can, particularly if you live in a Danish Palace, starting school can be easier if your child is familiar with the school environment beforehand. Practicing the route to school, walking around the school and getting a close look at the classroom that they will be in, is extremely helpful in reducing first day nerves. Formal orientation sessions are ideal but this year, due to coronavirus some of those have had to be virtual affairs.
Most children respond well to structure, routine and regularity, so getting them into the habit of a school regimen before their first day is critical. To set the emotional tone of being prepared, and excited
– encourage them to try on the uniform and shoes before the first day just to make sure everything is comfortable. Have them wear new school shoes for a couple of days before school starts and practice doing up laces or buckles.
Take a leaf out of Princess Mary and Prince Frederik’s playbook and choose a school bag that’s comfortable for them to carry, preferably a backpack with adjustable straps. Select a lunch box that has an easy-to-open lid and encourage your child to practice using it during a picnic lunch at home or in the park. Find out if your child needs any other items for school – for example, hat, art smock, library bag, pencils, markers, crayons and so on. One nice touch you might like to consider is to place a photo of yourself in the lunch box with a love heart.
Practical things count, so make sure your child’s name is clearly marked on all clothing, as well as the lunch box and school bag.
Practice laying out their clothes and going to bed and waking up on time. As well as lessening the chaos of getting children up and ready on time in the mornings, it can also help them feel more at ease about starting a new school year.
One of the greatest predictors of wellbeing is having a rich repertoire of friends, so helping them make friends can have a huge impact on making them feel at ease in a new environment. Children in their early years of schooling often benefit greatly from a bit of guidance in this area. You need to be their social secretary, ideally try to organise playdates with other children before the first day of school, as it can make such a difference if a child knows another child going to the same school before day 1. Once school starts, you can help by getting to know other parents and invite children over for play dates and further help them forge these relationships.
It is important for parents to make an effort to look after their own wellbeing at stressful times like these. For the first drop off, try (despite your real feelings) to appear relaxed with a happy or calm expression. Explain beforehand your drop-off procedure so they are completely aware of what will happen, then tell them when you’ll be back, and where you’ll be picking them up. After that drop and go, don’t hang around. But never sneak out, make sure that they know that you have left. Afterwards do something for yourself — have coffee with some mates, have a massage, or go the gym – give yourself some self-care. Remember that parenting is not an exercise in martyrdom.
While in most cases worries about separation simply pass as children adapt to school life, but if you think your child needs some help dealing with her anxiety, see a health professional such as a GP who can refer you to a child psychologist. For the record, Prince Vincent of Denmark, Count of Monpezat fourth in line to the Danish throne, by all reports is doing fine.