Starting "Big School"

A parents' survival guide for the Big Day...

My husband and I were thrilled when we learned our four year-old daughter had got into the lovely village Primary School. Friendly and confident, with lots of Pre-School pals also in Reception, I was pretty sure she’d be fine. I didn’t realise the person having a meltdown on the Big Day in September would be me.

I managed to hold it together while dropping her off - brave smiles, and a last plaintive “I love you!” as she skipped in happily. But I sobbed all the way home. And then I found myself crying again - literally howling - as I drove to our first ever school pick-up.

Of course, she’d had a lovely time. And thankfully I managed to hide my hysterical breakdown. But I was taken aback by the strength of my emotion. Because it’s not just a Big Day for your child; it is also a momentous day for you: your baby is heading off into the big wide world without you. And even if you can’t wait to get some independence back (which was certainly true for me - I am no home-schooler), you also know life will never be the same again.

One year on, I have learned some techniques (based on modern understanding of the brain) that would have helped. Most “starting school” advice focuses on practical preparation: trying on the uniform; doing a practice school run; a special night-before bath or morning breakfast. All of this is useful. But you can hugely benefit from some emotional preparation as well.

  • Find a quiet, undisturbed place, close your eyes and take a deep breath. Think about how you want to feel on the Big Day. Positive? Calm? Enthusiastic? Then allow yourself to remember a specific time when you had that feeling strongly: very calm, lying on the beach, for example; or wildly enthusiastic, watching sport. Get right into that memory, seeing it and hearing it as if you are actually there in that moment. Imagine what colour that feeling would be: eg blue for calm, or orange for enthusiastic. Breathe that feeling in.

  • Then visualise the Big Day. Imagine waking, feeling that same amazing “beach blue calm” (or whatever feeling you want) in every cell of your body. Imagine behaving with “beach blue calm” throughout all the before-school preparations; when dropping your child off that first morning; during your day; at pick-up; and until you all go to bed. Imagine it in detail, see it as if it is actually happening before your eyes. With this brain rehearsal, you are laying the neurological foundations so that you can easily do this for real on the day itself.

  • One extra technique: when you are deep in that wonderful memory, experiencing that feeling strongly, put your hand on your heart, or touch your thumb and forefinger together, and say “I am beach blue calm” (or your desired feeling). You can then use this gesture and affirmation to get that feeling back even more easily and powerfully whenever you want.

With this kind of emotional preparation, you can help yourself be in the best state possible to support your child on their Big Day. And maybe avoid the snotty tears.