“It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” when the kids go back to school! I jest. I actually love the summer holidays but like all good things, they must come to an end.
And so the first day back to school comes lumbering over the horizon, trudging like a teenager with an overweight school bag slung over one shoulder.
My own situation sees the youngest return to the middle section of primary school, the middle child start into the second year of secondary school, and the eldest heading into (drumroll) leaving cert year (dun dun duuuunnnnnn!).
I’m ahead of a lot of my friends of similar vintage, so here are my words of wisdom* regarding going to school (*disclaimer: wisdom is not guaranteed).
So I think I have primary school down at this stage. I’ve been through most scenarios and come out the other side. I’ve had tantrums and tears because they didn’t want to go to school.
I found it best to let the teacher take the lead on this – he/she is a trained professional (hopefully! If not, you may want to reevaluate your choice of school!) and has experience.
Also, they have to deal with the tantrum for the rest of the school day while you’re gone. We found the ‘let’s just get on with it’ method worked best for us.
Yes, the child cried, and yes, it was heart breaking for the first while and exhausting for a long time after that. But the teacher assured me that the minute I was gone out the school gates, the child had stopped crying and settled quickly.
This teacher had a great way of reassuring the child and listening to them if they had a genuine concern, while at the same time not tolerating any bullshit from them either.
Lunches were a source of stress and arguments for a while. Most schools have healthy eating policies, but in my experience, they are not strictly enforced so long as the kid’s lunch is within reason.
Obviously, chocolate bars, sweets, crisps, etc. are treats and shouldn’t be in a school lunch.
I fought for years to get mine to eat sandwiches, rolls, wraps, etc. and ended up throwing most of it in the bin. Better to give them what they will actually eat. If they’re eating properly at home, they’ll be okay.
We had experience of bullying too in primary school, and recently heard from another parent in a similar situation. Again, schools have policies in place to deal with these events, though if you can, approach the parents first.
If they’re any kind of decent people they’ll be horrified that their child is involved and will nip it in the bud there and then.
And so on to secondary school, where I have one at either end of this journey. Secondary school can be intimidating for both kids and parents, particularly if it’s your eldest heading off. As in our case, they can be making a huge leap from a small country school of around 70 to a big town school of over 750.
That’s daunting for anyone.
Also, they’re going from somewhere familiar where they’re comfortable, and where they’ve spent the past year or 2 being the big fish in a small pond. Now it’s all change and they’re the small fish in a huge and confusing ocean.
I’ll be honest, it does take a little time to adapt to having lots of different teachers, new subjects and new classmates. It can be near Christmas by the time they’ve gotten used to the new routine.
My middle child was relatively young going to secondary school, and was a bit green and naive. He was shocked that when he left his pencil case and calculator down in the corridor, they weren’t there when he came back!
But he learned, adapted and found a good group of friends. He had to – there was only 1 other boy from his primary school starting in high school with him! I have to say, having a background in sports helped hugely. Boys recognized each other having played each other with their clubs, and were now team mates on school teams – a great ice breaker.
Kids mature a lot in the first year of secondary school – they become a lot more independent. They have to!
And so to the other end of the scale. My eldest is facing into the leaving cert. God, even those words turn my stomach. I could go on about how unfair the system in Ireland is, with CAO points and 5 or 6 years of work condensed into one exam, but that’s for another day.
Right now, I’m terrified on his behalf. Terrified of the study. Of the exams. Of the college applications. Of the results. Of the mad dash for accommodation.
But mostly because he’s 17 and hasn’t a clue what to do with the rest of his life. How could he? A lot of adults still don’t know what to do with theirs. So I’m just going to do my best to keep him grounded, push him a little when he needs it (he’ll definitely need it) and just support him through what can be a tough and trying time for young adults.
So basically that’s my wisdom for parents of school-going children;
Help them, support them and be there for them.