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How To Survive Your Child Starting School: A Guide For Mums

Does your child start school this month? Maybe they already have or maybe it’s coming very soon…

Is it bringing up a ton of emotions and anxieties for you?

Mine will be on her way soon. We’ve had the home visit from her teacher and bought her book bag. It’s all starting to feel VERY real.

And I’ve got mixed emotions about it.

Here are some ways you can start to deal with those emotions and fears that can all too easily pop up in our minds when our child gets to that starting school milestone. Try out asking yourself:

1. Is what I’m thinking actually true?

2. How do I know this is what’s going to happen?

3. Are there any other possible ways of seeing it?

4. What’s the best case scenario in this?

5. What’s the worst? And what would I do if that happened?

The thing about our little ones starting school is that they seem, well, still so little. Or it seems to have come about so fast and we don’t feel ready for them to be growing up so quickly. We get caught in those emotional ways of thinking that are completely understandable but are usually not entirely accurate.

And as a result, your child starting school can quickly become a time that’s coloured by anxieties. Fears that play in the background of your mind. Emotions that rise up, unexpectedly, tapping into those intense, maternal pulls that trigger you to want to fiercely protect your child and not let go of them. Ever.

That’s the emotional brain. The side driven by instinct and a desire to keep your children safe. And close. Oh so close.

It’s the side that whispers the things you’re frightened of. What if they get scared? What will they do if I’m not nearby and they fall and hurt themselves? Will the teachers really be paying as much attention to them as I do? And what will I do? How will I cope now that my little one isn’t quite so little? It feels like this is the first step to them not needing you anymore….to them growing up and growing away.

It can feel like you’re losing something. Something that you’re not ready to lose.

I went to a parent’s meeting not so long ago at my daughter’s soon to be school and the message was given loud and clear. Up until now, it’s just been you and them. You’ve been their teacher, their support, their guide. And thank you very much, you’ve been doing a great job. But now it’s not just you anymore. The school is here to take over a large part of that role. For 5 days a week, from 9am til 3.25pm, you will no longer be the sole influencer of your child. And you’d better get used to it. Quick.

I could feel a pang of anxiety and panic hit me as soon as I heard all that. Images of my little girl not needing me anymore. Of other people having a say in shaping her. And it didn’t feel good.

Now, I’m pretty curious about what goes on in my head. Which helps when you’re a CBT therapist like me, so this flare up of anxiety and the hot rise of sharp emotions that always warns tears are nearby got me wondering where my brain was heading and whether it was really accurate. Let alone helpful.

So, I backtracked. I took this notion of handing over the care of my child to someone else, of no longer being her sole support, her sole teacher and asked myself what was really going on.

After all, I already leave her at nursery 3 days a week and I’m perfectly happy doing that. She’s already with her Grandma one day a week and she has a blast.

So, why am I approaching this situation like there’s something huge about to go down? Why, just because someone has tugged on my heartstrings a bit, am I creating a narrative that’s pretty far removed from my reality? I haven’t actually been her sole carer and teacher: she’s had nursery; extended family and friends; Grandparents; Cbeebies. I’ve been very happy to leave her in their care and she’s had a great time and always been well cared for.

So when in my head school becomes this emotional separation, it’s because this is the story that my brain is creating. Because this is what we all tend to do. We create stories in our heads. Even when we don’t mean to or when we’re not aware that we’re even doing it. Our minds take off running down whatever road our fears are tapping in to. And it’s usually got very little to do with reality.

Your particular situation and fears might be slightly different from mine, but they’ll likely be scenarios you’re creating based on these anxieties or your strong mum impulses. Go through that list of questions and apply them to something you’ve been dreading about your child starting school.

What do you come up with? Does it shift how you see things and how you feel?

We all have that internal chatter in our heads, giving meanings to things that sometimes don’t quite hit the mark

I did it too. I asked myself whether it was true that I won’t have those special her and me days anymore? No. It may well be different now, but believe me we’re going to be having a whole heap MORE mum/daughter time when the (many) school holidays kick in…

Is it true that she’s growing up and away from me? That I’m losing her? No. She most definitely still needs me. I’m always going to be her mum. But she’s also learning to widen out her circle of caregivers and that’s adding a new important dimension to her experiences and ability to cope in this world. She’s creating relationships and that’s a really lovely thing to see happen.

Now, your situation may be different to mine. Maybe your child has never been in childcare before. Maybe you’re not so happy with the school they’re going to. And yes, some experiences when our children go to school aren’t 100% positive.

But those questions we can all ask when we feel ourselves getting apprehensive and fearful of what’s about to happen can really help get a more accurate perspective back. To see what’s really going on. To let go of the fears and worries that we don’t need to be holding on to and to deal with those situations that need to change. Maybe the school isn’t your first choice…so, what can you do about it? Can you go on the wait list for a school you do want? Can you wait and see how your child responds once they’re there and you can see what it’s like day to day?

When I get panicked about my daughter getting sucked into this inflexible school system that will be calling all the shots from now on, I remind myself that I can always home school if I hate it. Or if she’s miserable. That brings me back to reality with a thud. It reminds me that I do still have some options and some say in things. Even if it would mean some pretty extreme changes in my life. It gives some space and lets the panic quieten down.

So, be prepared for this to be a transition, for you and for them. It’s a new phase for us all and it’s alright to have different emotions swirling around.

Be prepared that you may well break down in tears as you walk away from dropping them that first day (many a mum has been recounting to me her tales of emotions surging up to hit her in the face as she watched her child walk through the classroom door for the first time). It doesn’t mean anything awful is happening. It’s just part of the natural process of adjusting to your child growing, developing and life changing yet again.

Or, you may be absolutely fine…Either way, it’s all OK.

I know it’ll be a mixed bag of emotions for me and my daughter on her first day: excitement, apprehension, nervousness, some tears maybe, but also lots of pride.

And I also know that it’s me she’s going to come home to every night, full of her tales of what she’s learnt and achieved and all the fun she’s had.

To be honest, I did have a moment during the teacher’s home visit when I felt a bit teary. But that wasn’t about letting go of my child. It was the immense gratitude I felt that she was about to have these wonderful new people in her life who were going to be looking after her and guiding her. All the new things she was about to experience and learn.

What an adventure she’s about to start!

I’m going to try and enjoy it. Because it won’t be long before all I’m getting is grunts when I ask about her day….

It can be hard letting our kids go, but they’ll always be ours

Clare Flaxen is a mum, cognitive behavioural therapist and founder of Resilient Mums. If you’re interested in finding out more about having CBT with her or the online courses she runs, email hello@resilientmums.com

You can join her Facebook group, The Resilient Mums Collective, HERE

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