It's not easy being a parent – and it's certainly not easy when a child starts school. But there are some steps you can take to ease the transition and, for existing parents, there are some vital lessons which it is never too late to adopt. Here are my ten golden rules for new parents.
1. Do teach your child to be independent: This is probably the hardest thing to do as a parent. You want to be that proud parent whose child walks confidently into school with a smile on their face and a kiss and a wave for you! Whenever you leave your child anywhere always say goodbye swiftly and without emotion telling them you'll be back shortly and go, even if they are crying. Make sure that you are back on time – do not be the last one to pick them up – as there is no worse feeling for a child than that they have been abandoned, no matter how nice and caring the staff may be. Teach them how to put on their coat and gather their own belongings; teach them how to go to the toilet by themselves or to ask when they need to go; and teach them to feed themselves with a knife and fork sitting at the table with others.
2. Do read everything the school sends to you: The school will communicate with you, have no doubt, but it is up to you as to whether you read their communications – or not. You do not want to be the parent whose child is the only one in uniform when everyone is dressed up as a book character. Do not rely on the good services of other parents to keep you up to date, no matter how well meaning they may be, always refer back to the official school communications. Be wary of getting involved with a WhatsApp group or similar – particularly if they are used as a means of expressing opinions about the school. Remember, every child is unique and every family's situations are different from others. If you have concerns go directly to the school and remember that others' opinions are from their point of view, not yours.
3. Do play games with your child and teach them how to lose gracefully: Your child is, of course, the apple of your eye but once in school they are part of a group. Other children and staff are not always going to let them win, be the best, be the first. Do the things at home that can't always be done in school – take them to the park, for long walks, teach them to scoot, to ride a bike, to build dens. Do teach them to love books, to recognise their name, even to know the 'sounds' of the letters in their name, to count, to know their colours, and to love learning – because it is fun and meaningful, not enforced.
"Be wary of getting involved with a WhatsApp group or similar – particularly if they are used as a means of expressing opinions about the school. Remember, every child is unique and every family's situations are different from others."
4. Do be proud of everything your child brings home and wow at it no matter how huge, hideous, or unrecognisable it may be: A very good tip is to say that it is so lovely you're going to take it into work to be admired there – and it might never make it home again!
5. Do respect and believe what the teachers say about your child: Of course you know your child better than anyone in a home situation, but the staff are seeing your child in a school situation being asked to do things that may be new to them, difficult, or maybe don't yet understand. The advice the school gives you is for the benefit of your child and so please, never forget that. You need to work with them, communicate with them, help them to build a full picture of your child and help them to put in place whatever will help your child at school. Remember that the staff will have decades of experience behind them and it's not a competition between you and them – so never say, 'well he never does that at home!'
6. Do not take your child out of school early at the end of term: The last day of term is as important as the first, it is the culmination and celebration of a whole term's work. Extended holidays in term time are not a good idea. Your child misses out on whatever is going on in school. Do not expect teachers to set work if your child is away – it devalues the teaching in school and gives them more work in preparation and marking.
7. Do set a good example in phone etiquette: Do have strict rules at home and start them early. Remember that the rules apply to you too. That means no phones or devices at the table or in the bedroom. It is never an excuse to say, 'I was just... checking my email etc'. Your children will copy you.
"After a long day, they need the luxury of being bored to learn how to entertain themselves. After school activities are good but ensure some balance: by all means pick one or two but remember children have their whole lives ahead of them to learn to horse ride or take up archery."
8. Do not compete with other parents about who has the most accomplished child: Remember your children are still very young, they need down time after school. After a long day, they need the luxury of being bored to learn how to entertain themselves. After school activities are good but ensure some balance: by all means pick one or two but remember children have their whole lives ahead of them to learn to horse ride or take up archery. If in doubt, please read May Contain Nuts by John O'Farrell – strongly recommended for all parents.
9. Don't feel the need to invite everyone to your child's birthday party: Remember your child will not be friendly with absolutely everyone in the class or even year group. You do not need to invite everyone even if your child has been invited to others. Choose your, and your child's friends, and do what your child wants to do. Most children don't enjoy big, out of control events where everyone is high on sugar and excitement – they usually end in tears. Children don't need the number of presents such events bring in and sensible parents worry about how much is appropriate to spend. Be brave and talk to the other parents in the class and come up with some ground rules so everyone knows where you stand – they will thank you for it!
10. Do read a bedtime story to your child every night: This is such a special time of day when your child truly gets to be a child again, to have a cuddle and to feel the love you have for them – no more brave faces or stiff upper lips. The thing your child craves the most is your time and attention. Don't assuage your guilt at having a busy working life by buying them gifts. Give them your time instead – helping to sweep up the leaves in the garden, going to the car wash, having time with you without a sibling. These mundane activities can be incredibly precious for a child because they are with you and they have your undivided attention – provided you put your phone away!
And if I could add just one more, do say 'thank you' to the staff at the end of term. If you do give a small gift make sure that your child physically gives it and that it is something from them – it is so much more meaningful for the teacher. Remember, your child will genuinely love their teacher and will be so excited to give him or her a gift and to see them open it. Above all, do enjoy this stage of your child's life – it will be over before you know it and you never get this time back again.