I joined a ‘Due In…’ group on Facebook when pregnant with Small and we have stayed a close group ever since. Our children have all turned 4 this year and, unlike Small (who has stayed in Nursery for another year due to her special educational needs), the rest have started school. It should be an exciting time, as well as daunting and emotional. For some mums it’s their first time on the school merry-go-round. For others, it’s their last baby who is flying the nest and their days are becoming empty-ish without them.
However, I’m slightly dismayed to read some of the posts from these friends in recent weeks. Posts questioning their own child’s behaviour, other children’s behaviour, whether their child is ‘behind’ in their reading… Here is an open letter to all those mums who are wobbling right now…
STOP!!!! From one mama who has been through it to all of you… please, stop. Take a breath. Your baby is four. Four! Probably the biggest thing that has ever happened to them has just happened to them. It takes a good while for everyone to adjust. Deep breath in… count to ten… and, out….. Okay? Good.
I completely understand that you’re worried your child is ‘behind’. I really do. But we’re not even half a term into the first year. There isn’t an ‘ahead’ to be behind yet. Let your child learn at their own pace and they’ll get it. Between you and the teacher, you’ll work out the right level of push to give them when they need it. Make sure you have a good, open and honest relationship. It’s scary leaving your baby in someone else’s hands for the whole day, especially if you’ve never had to do it before. Make sure you’re on the same page and all will be well.
Your child is clinging and crying when you leave them? That’s so tough. It actually hurts your heart, doesn’t it? I see you, running back to your car and sitting, sobbing for a few minutes before you try to compose yourself and get on with your day. I’ve done it. That thing where the teacher tells you that they’re fine once you’ve gone and they’ve had a chance to realise they’re okay? It’s true. It’s not just something they tell you to get you to go away. If they were really concerned, they’d tell you. No-one wants to leave a child completely distraught all day without trying to get to the bottom of it. I know you must have done it already, but try to put yourself in their shoes (you actually were once, remember!) – you’re four. You’ve been left in this place that has strange people, rules, strange smells and noise. Lots of noise. Life just got quite hard. It’s okay to have a bit of a wobble. It’s okay to miss your mum, or your nana and grandad, or your old nursery. Mama, you know that they will be fine – it may take a few days, a few weeks, or even months, but they will be okay.
You’re worried your child isn’t eating their school dinner? My son used to have a plain jacket potato most days. Just butter. No cheese, no beans, no nothing. And do you know what? He was fine. He’s tall, he’s filling out a bit now, he’s healthy. I made sure he had good food as often as possible at home. A few missed lunches won’t hurt them in the long run, they’ll just be starving when you pick them up – make sure you take a snack at home time.
One of the biggest concerns you have is “will s/he make friends?” You’re wondering how other children will take to yours, and whether your child will interact with others. We’ve all had that worry. What if they are left out? What if they are the bossy one? What if they are bullied? What if (shudder) they are the bully? And you know what? There’s a good chance they’ll go through all those things – if not in the first year then certainly by the time they reach senior school. But there’s not a whole lot we parents can do about it. That’s something for the children to sort out amongst themselves. All we can do is arm them with the confidence to stand up for themselves and for others when they need it. Falling in and out of friends and friendship groups is all part and parcel of growing up. How many times did you and your best friend argue and make up again when you were a kid? Has it harmed you long-term? No, it’s unlikely. It’s more likely that it’s given you the experience and wisdom to know when a friendship needs more work, or even if it’s died altogether and it’s time to move on.
I know these aren’t the first worries you’ve had as a parent and I’m damn certain they won’t be your last – it only gets worse as they go through school, I’m afraid. But try to remember to take it one day at a time. Encourage their inquisitive nature and help them to develop their creativity. Give them the tools they need to become a decent human being: teach them independence, empathy, compassion, respect, self-belief. If you can do that, then you may just help make their school days become some of the best days of their lives.
And know you’re not alone in this.
A Mama, just like you xx
If your little one is due to start school, you can read my top tips and download a printable ‘starting school’ checklist here!