Subtle encouragement may be best way to help youngsters adjust to life at school

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 September, 2011, 12:00am


My daughter started Primary One a couple of weeks ago, and she has been coming home upset saying she has no friends and doesn't want to go to school. She is not eating her packed lunch. I am at my wits' end. What should I do?

Starting primary school can be a stressful time. Even if your daughter attended kindergarten, the adjustment to going to a larger school with different rules and structures can still be difficult. Students face all-day schooling for the first time, and more demands are made of them.

Most schools implement measures to ease in new entrants and help them cope with new people and challenges. Some start the year with just a morning or afternoon session, for instance, or have half a class in at a time for the first couple of weeks.

It is quite normal for your child to feel confused and perhaps even a little overwhelmed. Even if some of her friends are in the same class, there is a sea of new faces to deal with, including older students, some of whom must seem like giants. Wanting to avoid these stresses by withdrawing herself from the situation is a perfectly understandable reaction.

Give her time and monitor the situation carefully. Talk to her about who she talks to and gently explore what she does during break times. Relationships take time to develop, and before long your daughter will probably be regaling you with tales about a range of new friends, and you'll wonder what the fuss was about. However, if her reluctance persists, you should consult the school, through the class teacher, to see whether her perception is reality and take it from there.

Some children see attending primary school as the first step in their independence, and it is not unusual for them to have a busy, productive day full of energy and activity and then report to their parents that they have done nothing all day. Remember that their imaginations are very vibrant at this age, so their recollections of their experiences can be distorted. A colleague used to make a deal with parents not to believe half of what their child said happened at home as long as they agreed not to believe half of what their youngster said happened at school.

Your daughter's worries may be why she is not eating lunch. Ask the school who supervises lunch, and let them know so they can watch her more carefully.

In the short term, your daughter may need subtle encouragement. Show that you support her but that school is important. It is vital that after any initial settling-in period she is happy to go to school and be ready to learn each day. Good schools form productive relationships with parents and promote cross-referencing of information to do the best for all students.

Young children are remarkably flexible and resilient. Many routines will be completely new to your daughter, but with the support of the teachers and yourself, she can take full advantage and embark on the rest of her educational journey with confidence and fortitude.

Julie McGuire teaches at an international school