How to cope with the stress of start­ing school—if you’rea­parent

Thou­sands of chil­dren will be jo­ing re­cep­tion classes next month, but its mums and dads who need com­fort­ing

The Jewish Chronicle - - Features - BY SARAH EB­NER

MARC POLIVNICK is, in his own words, “ex­cited and ner­vous”. He is ex­cited be­cause his daugh­ter, Ariella, who is nearly four, is soon to em­bark on a new stage in her life. And he is ner­vous for ex­actly the same rea­son. Why? Be­cause Ariella is start­ing school. “I think I’m go­ing to burst into tears when I see her in her first school uni­form,” says Polivnick, who is orig­i­nally from Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, but now lives in Edg­ware. “It’s amaz­ing how time flies. When you re­alise that your old­est is start­ing school [Ariella is go­ing to Mathilda Marks-Kennedy in north-west Lon­don], it’s a rev­e­la­tion.”

Start­ing school is a big step for a child, but it is sim­i­larly (and some­times more) emo­tional for their par­ents. Noth­ing else demon­strates how big your once-tiny baby has be­come — they are grow­ing up.

“I have mixed feel­ings about Ben start­ing school,” says Sharon Baker, an­other par­ent of a nearly fouryear-old. “A part of me is re­lieved that I’ll have more time. But an­other part can’t be­lieve that my son’s not go­ing to be there as much, that I won’t have my spe­cial time with him and that he’s go­ing into the big bad world which I don’t have con­trol over.”

Ben has been go­ing to Gan Alon nurs­ery at New North Lon­don Sy­n­a­gogue for the past year. In Septem­ber, he starts at Akiva School, in Finch­ley. Baker — who has an older daugh­ter, Maya, al­ready at Akiva — knows that it is a big step.

“Un­til now, it’s been up to me who Ben plays with and it’s been easy to find out what he’s been do­ing from speak­ing to the nurs­ery teach­ers. I know it’s soon go­ing to be very dif­fer­ent, as I’ve found it quite weird watch­ing Maya grow up and re­al­is­ing that there are a lot of things which are just out of your hands. They in­clude speak­ing to the teach­ers when­ever you want — they’re just too busy.”

Par­ent­ing is a con­stant “let­ting go,” and this starts from when your son or daugh­ter is just a baby. You want them to be in­de­pen­dent, but that does not mean you do not feel sad­dened by the fact that they seem to need you less. Start­ing school re­ally em­pha­sises this process.

“It’s dif­fi­cult for par­ents,” says Baker, “be­cause you’ve had years of be­ing with your child quite a lot and you’re not go­ing to have that again. I think we all find that it’s flashed by and that it’s hap­pened while we’ve felt too tired, too stressed and too wrapped up in our worlds of try­ing to jug­gle ev­ery­thing.”

Ed­u­ca­tional psy­chol­o­gist Alexis Beaver knows that many par­ents feel this way. How­ever, she has some words of com­fort.

“Your chil­dren don’t need you less, they need you at dif­fer­ent times,” she says. “When your child starts school, you have to en­joy the mo­ment and see it as a new op­por­tu­nity. There will be lots of other mo­ments you can en­joy too. It’s all about liv­ing in the present.”

How­ever, our emo­tions can some­times catch us un­aware. I be­came quite melan­choly­whenmy son started nurs­ery, as it seemed to mark the end o f h i s b a b y - h o o d . A n d i t does not m a t t e r whether it is your first child, sec­ond, only or last — you are sure to have some kind of re­ac­tion when they’re grown-up enough to go to school.

Teach­ers are well aware of the sit­u­a­tion, not least be­cause they have chil­dren too. De­bra Vaughan, a re­cep­tion class teacher at Mo­riah School, also in north-west Lon­don, has one daugh­ter just fin­ish­ing year 1 and an­other start­ing in re­cep­tion next month.

“Hav­ing school-age chil­dren my­self, I think I am now even more aware of the im­por­tance of pla­cat­ing par­ents,” she says. “I make sure I find the time to re­as­sure them that their child was fine, es­pe­cially if they were cry­ing when their mum or dad left them. That’s what I would want to hear in the same cir­cum­stances.

“I think that it’s the par­ents who worry more than the chil­dren, who are usu­ally OK af­ter five min­utes. But par­ents need to have con­fi­dence that we as teach­ers know how to help their chil­dren and that we’ve done this be­fore. We are the pro­fes­sion­als, but we also know that the chil­dren are very pre­cious.”

The run-up to school can seem like a turn­ing point in your and your child’s life. If you are feel­ing a lit­tle bereft, try hard not to let your child pick up on this. Chil­dren can re­flect their par­ents’ moods very eas­ily. In­stead, you need to be pos­i­tive, whether you feel that way or not. This holds true even for par­ents who did not like school very much them­selves. This is not about you — it is about your child. And of course, things have changed a great deal since your day, so you will soon dis­cover that you are find­ing out al­most as much as your child.

“Com­ing from a com­pletely dif­fer­ent school­ing sys­tem, we’ve had to fa­mil­iarise our­selves with how it all works in the UK,” says Marc Polivnick, whose learn­ing process be­gan with the school ap­pli­ca­tion ar­range­ments. “We were very keen that Ariella should re­ceive a Jewish ed­u­ca­tion and are de­lighted that she’s start­ing at Mathilda Marks-Kennedy. I’m sure she’ll make friends pretty quickly.”

Mak­ing friends, of course, is a key el­e­ment when it comes to start­ing school, both for the chil­dren, and once again, their par­ents. But par­ents should not get too stressed about this, as it comes with time. And it gets eas­ier with each child.

“I’m much less nerve-wracked than I was when Maya started school,” agrees Sharon Baker. “It was so new to me then, there was so much I didn’t know. With Ben it’ll be dif­fer­ent. I feel much more pre­pared and will try to en­joy the sum­mer hol­i­days as much as I can. Be­cause af­ter that, it all changes.” Sarah Eb­ner is the au­thor of the ‘Start­ing School Sur­vival Guide: ev­ery­thing you need to know when your child starts pri­mary school’, pub­lished by White Lad­der

That long walk through the play­ground can be nerve-wrack­ing. But Sharon Baker ( be­low) is draw­ing on her ex­pe­ri­ence of when her daugh­ter Maya started at Akiva School to pre­pare for her son Ben’s first days in re­cep­tion when he joins Akiva next month

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