For a couple of months now, Yasmine Abdel Razek has been preparing her daughter, Farida Tarek, for the first days of school. Abdel Razek was worried that her daughter was not going to cope well with the situation, based on the experience with her nursery months before.
“Farida went to nursery for three months before school and she was unhappy the whole time,” says Abdel Razek. “I would have to run after her in the morning to get her to get dressed.”
The first days passed very well for Farida, says Abdel Razek.”I’m actually surprised.” It was however, hard on her.
Sunday, the first full day at school, Abdel Razek sent Farida with her father because she “didn’t want to feel guilty for leaving her.”
Early childhood specialist Honayda Saadeh says that in order for children to cope well with their first days of school, they must feel that their parents are secure and comfortable with school.
“If you are concerned and worried, you will pass it to your child – it’s too contagious,” Saadeh says. “The child will be thinking, ''Why is mommy worried? Is there something I should be worried about?’ Then the child begins to panic because s/he feels insecure.”
Saadeh says that “being too cheerful can also cause alarm signals in your child’s head.”
“Be as normal as possible when dealing with the first days of school,” is Saadeh’s advice.
The biggest mistake made during the first days of school, according to Saadeh, is when parents drop the child off and leave.
“This makes the next day worse and the child clings on for his life,” says Saadeh. The drop-off-and-run approach causes great mistrust in children.
The next big problem Saadeh faces as an assistant principal in an international school in New Cairo is parents telling their child that they are going to the doctor, then coming back.
There are two problems with this example, according to Saadeh. First, it makes the doctor scary, which creates a problem for the next time the child goes to a doctor’s office, and second, it makes the child think that school is a temporary babysitting experience.
Saadeh’s main piece of advice is to talk to your child. Having a rational conversation with the child can help. It may be helpful to tell the child that you are going to your job and that while you are away, they must go to their "job" too.
Making the child understand that school is a matter of fact and will be part of their daily routine from now on is important in making the time pass smoothly. The child will feel worried at first. However, they will ease into the daily routine because their trust in their parents usually allows them to have faith in any decisions that are made for them.
“By talking to the child in a calm manner, using phrases like, ‘I understand you are worried, It’s OK to cry, I know it’s not easy,’ is important,” says Saadeh. However, make sure you reiterate that even though you understand his or her sadness, the child still must go.
Another mistake made frequently by parents, according to Saadeh, is bribing the child. By using bribes, learning becomes reward-based, while it should be intrinsic, says Saadeh. The reasons for going should be because the child will have fun, play games and learn new and exciting things. By explaining to the child what s/he will be doing there, when they start experiencing these things, they will want to go. If they associate a bribe or toy with going to school, the child will expect this every time they go to school.
When Farida went to school the first day, she was apprehensive yet excited. Her school held a two-day orientation where she got to go and explore the classroom with her mother there to reassure her. Mothers also need this kind of orientation, so they can familiarize themselves with the place their children will be spending half their lives in.
The “weaning” process, as Saadeh describes it, is essential to let the child ease into their first days. When they become comfortable with a place, they realize it will not be that bad.
When Farida’s father took her, he said that he would leave in five minutes. When he left she had no problem. The comfort and awareness of what she was expecting to happen diminished any apprehension she may have had.
Saadeh’s final advice is to make sure you do not alarm your child. School is as natural as eating and drinking. Make it seem that way by not over-explaining or making it seem like a mystery, she says.
Simply explain the situation in a matter-of-fact way while being kind and gentle with the child. Let your child express themself and help dispel any fears they might have. This way you will ensure a smooth beginning to a fruitful year.