Five tips for new school mums

Don't pack too much food in their lunch box.
Don't pack too much food in their lunch box. Photo: Getty Images

Across the country, mothers are nervously ironing name labels onto school uniforms. Their minds are racing with thoughts of late January, early Feb when their babies will embark on a primary school adventure for the very first time. They'll also be recalling why they hate ironing so much. But mostly, they're thinking about sending their babies out into the world.

Becoming a school mum is daunting. How will little Johnny cope? How will little mummy cope? And how on earth is it humanly possible to be across every newsletter and notice that comes home?

I've had two school beginners myself. Some might say I am an old hand at this gig. In some ways, this is true. I know my way around school life reasonably well and feel confident in imparting some of my hard-earned wisdom with you.

Sadly, I cannot help you with the newsletter thing. It's brutal and that's the truth.

Here are some things I do know ...

1. Don't bombard your kid with questions after school

"So how was school today? What did you do?" It's a natural question to want to ask when your little person is beginning their school adventure. I was DESPERATE for details when my eldest son started Prep. I was so excited for him and assumed he would be just as keen to share moments of his day. I was bitterly disappointed when my questions were met with monosyllabic answers like, "Good" and "Can't remember". Seriously? What I didn't realise is that giving me a detailed answer was almost impossible for him to do.

Cognitively, our little people have just taken a hammering. Their brains are working overtime to keep up with the pace of a full day of school, learning new rules, routines and expectations - and then they have to learn actual academic stuff! It's a lot, and in those early days (and even months), they will need some quiet time to enable their brains to process everything they have learnt.

So now, on the car ride home, I'll ask a simple question like, "Did you have a good day?" which allows them to give a yes or no answer. If they want to elaborate, they can. But if not, I let it be.

2. Don't be afraid to ask the teacher questions

If your kid isn't telling you about their day, that's normal. But if you have concerns about how it's going, the teacher may be able to help fill in the gaps. If they're not aware of any issues, they can keep an eye out for you. Most teachers (if not all) will welcome you sharing concerns. They have 19+ other kids in that class and it's impossible for them to be across every aspect of your child's day, but making them aware of a potential issue early gives them the best chance to help remedy it.

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Both my sons' Prep teachers really helped allay those first year fears. They were so patient with me and always put things in perspective. Seeing my kids through their eyes gave me a greater understanding of them which was a beautiful gift.

3. Expect some emo behaviour

When kids start school, it exhausts them. On every level, they're being challenged. So if they're a little tired and emotional at the end of the day, try to give them a pass.

When my eldest son started Prep, he was so exhausted at the end of the day that he would occasionally have epic meltdowns before bed. Even as a toddler, he had never been a tantrum thrower, so this behaviour threw us. Now, out of nowhere, he was flying into a tearful rage that he couldn't seem to control. I quickly worked out that arguing back was the very worst thing I could do, and so I would grab him and hold on tight until he calmed down. He needed support, not confrontation. 

I spoke to his teacher about his behaviour. Was he emotional and combative in the classroom? She told me that no, his behaviour in the classroom was excellent and that maybe the effort of this was so great that by the time he got home, he could no longer hold it together. It made so much sense.

So if your kid comes home from school a little ratty, give them some space. And a snack. Hangry is a real thing. Small grievances that would normally roll off might really get under their skin - and we're all like that when we're tired. Home should be a safe place to land. So in these initial few months, cut your little mate a bit of slack because chances are, they're trying their best to adjust to massive change. 

4. Don't over-pack the lunch box

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking school hours are long and that in the same time period at home, your child can devour 37 sandwiches, six bananas and an entire box of Savoys. I know. At home, kids never stop eating. But at home, boredom is often mistaken for appetite. At school, there will be no time for boredom.

But shouldn't we cram that lunch box full of food just in case? If they're not that hungry, they'll just leave food behind, right? Well, not necessarily.

My son came to me about six months into his Prep year complaining that I was giving him so much food that he was missing out on play time. When the bell rings for lunch, the kids sit and eat in the classroom and only when they're finished can they head outside to play. Being a slow eater, my son was struggling through his chicken wrap while his friends were wild and free in the playground. In the end, we started giving him half-wraps which didn't seem like nearly enough but he was much happier. At school, social interaction trumps food.

So how much is too much? Or just enough? It's obviously trial and error for every kid but a good rule of thumb is two things for each break. So for lunch, maybe a sandwich and a piece of fruit and for afternoon recess, a small yoghurt and some crackers. Keep it simple. The more elaborate and fiddly, the longer it will take to eat and the less time to run around outside. And that part of the day is pretty crucial to give small brains a break.

Yes, they'll be starving when they get home so have a healthy snack ready to go. Vegie muffins or fruit smoothies are popular here!

5. Volunteer as a parent helper

If you can block out a morning once a week/fortnight/month - hell, even once a term - to help out in the classroom for an hour or so, do it! It's an invaluable chance to see what goes on in class and to watch your child in action.

But a word of warning, do not go in to compare. There may be kids who are below your child's standard, and those who are well above it. Some kids will be naturally quiet and hard-working, others will be more prone to distraction. Every kid in that class is different and the only one who is any of your concern is your own. Be proud of who they are and applaud the progress they make in their own time.

Comparison is the thief of joy. Don't forget that. 

Bonus tip: talk to other parents

I can now say that some of my dearest friends are people I met through school (and pre-school) and this schooling journey would have been much less fun without them. You don't have to volunteer for every school council or committee, but getting to know other parents does help create a community. Communities are good!

Be open to meeting new people. You may not meet your soul sister, but having someone to chat to at school pick-up is nice. Give it a chance! 

Entering the schooling years is a monumental moment in the life of a family. It's a bumpy journey but it can also be really fun. Keep calm, stay involved and most importantly, celebrate your clever kid! If you believe in them, they really might just fly.

Angie Maddison is a Melbourne mum, wife and freelance writer. She blogs at The Little Mumma

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