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Why teachers and parents are the key to beating children’s first day nerves

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Published on 02 September 2019

Little Josh Haustead is preparing for his first day at school this week
Little Josh Haustead is preparing for his first day at school this week

This week millions of children will return to school – with many entering the classroom for the first time.

The first day at both primary and secondary school can be as daunting as it is exciting for both children and parents.

Whether it is a young person’s first experience of life in reception class, or an older pupil making the move to secondary school, for many the big day is life-changing.

So as anxious parents linger outside the classroom for a glimpse of their loved ones, many children will take it all in their stride. But, for others, the adjustment may take some time.

Teaching and psychology experts from the University of Sunderland today told how adults – both carers and teachers – are key to providing that support mechanism for those who find first day nerves getting the better of them.

Dr Amy Pearson, Senior Lecturer in Psychology at the University of Sunderland, said: “School transitions can be an anxious time for both children and parents.

“Dealing with changes in environment, fitting in and making new friends can be really stressful. Research shows that having good support from family, friends and teachers can help children to feel more comfortable with the transition to a new school or class, as well as having time to engage in fun activities - an after school club or some time reading their favourite book.

“Building a child's self-esteem can also help them to deal with changes, supporting them with new goals and helping them to achieve them.

“One way to help children build their self-esteem and boost their wellbeing is to help them develop their ability to 'bounce back' when faced with a challenge. Strong support from parents, family and teachers helps a child to develop their problem solving skills and feel like they can meet their own goals.”

Joshua Haustead, four, is this week making the move from St Mary’s Childcare at the University of Sunderland to primary school in Whitburn.

Dad Paul Haustead said: “With Joshua already attending St Mary’s Childcare Centre, having seen him on his visit to the school and his generally outgoing personality I can’t foresee Joshua having any problems making the transition from nursery to primary school.  He seems very excited about his first day at school.”

Mikeala Morgans, Principal Lecturer: Team Leader, Initial Teacher Training at the University of Sunderland, said: “Starting school for the first time can cause excitement and uncertainty. 

“It is seen by parents and children as big step up from nursery. In my experience, some children feel absolutely ready and excited for the change and others can feel overwhelmed and in need of more support to make the move. 

“However, what I do know is that however excited and confident or nervous and unsure children are, reception teachers are experts in their craft and know exactly how to nurture children and support parents in these early stages in their primary school careers.”

This Thursday, Princess Charlotte will attend her first day of school at Thomas's Battersea in London. She will be accompanied by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince George.

Prince George, five, started at the school in 2017. He was taken to school on his first day by his father Prince William.

The move between primary and secondary school can be a significant leap for many children.

Mikeala added: “Despite all the hard work schools do to prepare pupils for the transition to secondary school, the move can feel daunting. 

“The set-up of secondary schools can differ to that of primary schools and that causes uncertainty for some and excitement for others. 

“As a parent who has gone through this, I was concerned about how my child would cope and he had lots of questions about what secondary school would be like.  However, the excitement of the variety of the day, having lots of different teachers and being able to engage with new subjects soon took over from any anxiety he had.

“Secondary staff are very good at managing this transition and the pastoral systems in place support pupils and their parents with the adjustment needed for successful transition into Key Stage 3.”