Just last week social media was bursting with memes and videos of children embarking the tumultuous perils of the first day of school. Sure it was funny for a second as we saw children cry, try to jump fences and run after their parents as their parents tried to leave them on campus like some bag of flour that was not their problem. Next week this fun exercise will be upon the parents of Eswatini.
Sure some kids cry on the first day of school, in fact, Chris Evans (who plays Marvels Captain America) admits to having issues with separation anxiety till about the fifth grade; hard to imagine that Captain America cried on the first day of school till he was about ten years old. So why not take your child’s cries seriously. In fact, why not prepare them for this potential tear fest.
So what is this separation anxiety? “Separation anxiety is the fear or distress that can happen to both children and adults when they think about separating from home or from the people they’ve become attached to”. In simple terms, it is your child’s natural reflex to unchartered territory. You see your child has been exposed to a certain handful of people their entire life with a parental figure present at all times, suddenly you expect them to be in a place chuck full of people they are not familiar with without your presence. It is natural that your child would panic and show signs of fear.
One mistake that most parents make is not preparing their children for school. Sure you mention that they start school and buy them uniform and books but you don’t explain the use of the school, the potential benefits of school or what fun awaits in school so on the day of the drop-off school feels like more of a prison sentence than a fun new adventure. Of course, there are ways you can prepare your child and ease their suffering but they take a certain degree of work. You the parent have to be the teacher before you leave them in the hands of an actual teacher who happens to be a stranger.
First, you should talk to your child about school. They probably have had some experience with daycare but that might have been a smaller group. School is a combination of big kids who make fun of little kids and little kids who may have to stand up for themselves. Telling your child to go somewhere will not prepare them in any way. They may not ask all the questions they asked when they started talking but those questions are still there. It would be much easier to familiarise your child with some of the things they will be doing at school like drawing, counting, sitting still and working as part of a group.
Another thing you can do to help your child is teaching them how to initiate conversations with people their own friends and potentially how to make friends. Most lifelong friendships start with two awkward kids who met on the first day so help your child practice meeting their potential lifelong best friend.
While any other country would tell you to introduce your child to their teacher and take them on a tour of their school that is not realistic for Eswatini but if it is possible you should take this opportunity with both hands. If not you can try to prepare your child for the potentially tearful farewell. In fact, introduce them to the ‘malume’ that will pick them up every morning. Sure you have to leave but remind the kiddo that you will be back to pick them up later. And when you return congratulate them and try to listen to them as much as possible. Try to downplay their nerves from earlier and make sure they realise that school isn’t as bad as they thought.
Whatever you do don’t let your child take their favourite toy or their comfort blanket to school. It might seem like a good idea but you may be setting yourself up for failure because you will have to revisit a tearful morning goodbye later on.
Not all first day jitters are exclusive to first graders and pre-schoolers it could very well happen to someone who is joining a new school at an awkward grade or first time high schoolers. Either way, it is your job as a parent to make sure you make school an exciting adventure as opposed to the gruelling hellion some kids may mistake it for. Don’t be that parent whose kid is made fun of on social media. What is five minutes of your life compared to the lifelong trauma of your child?