If your child is not settling in at school, something specific might be on their mind. The academic year is in full-swing, but sometimes those new-starters don’t seem like they’re getting on with their new routine.
As a parent of a slow-settler whose friends and family are made up of primary school teachers, I decided to ask around about the most common reasons a child might not settle. It has taken weeks for Greg to finally adapt to being a reception class pupil, which was both upsetting and frustrating for us as parents. It was horrible trying to negotiate with him and persuade him he needed to go to school, and it was difficult to establish what the exact problem was – meaning we couldn’t try to fix it.
Why is your child not settling in at school?
It’s overwhelming for children to go from part-time nursery to full-time school, and they aren’t always able to articulate a specific problem as anything other than a general bad feeling. This is why it’s been so handy to speak to experienced primary school teachers about the most common issues.
Below are what the teachers in my life consider to be the best areas to talk through with your child when they’re not settling in at school.
1. They don’t have any friends
This is a really common problem for children who go up to ‘big school’ without any of their nursery friends. This is exactly what Greg went through as he’d attended the nursery attached to my uni when everyone else had attended one of the two nurseries near my house. This meant that he didn’t really know anybody, and as a shy child, didn’t feel confident enough to approach anyone in those early days.
Luckily for Greg, a little boy recognised him from the taster days and took him under his wing after the first week.
If you think that might be the problem with your child, it’s a good idea to have a quiet word with the teacher. Once the teacher knows your child is a little shy, they’ll do their best to pair them with other children they think they’ll hit it off with. The teacher wants your child to enjoy their time at school and they understand that lots of children take a bit of time settling in.
2. They’re worried about lunchtime
This was another issue Greg had. When he was at nursery, he didn’t stay for the full day, so didn’t have to think about hot dinners. Greg is a faddy child and get worried at the thought of being served something he doesn’t like. Despite sitting down with me and choosing his meal options at the beginning of the week, he spent every lunch time worried about what he’d have to eat.
Picking meals with him, as it turns out, was the right thing to do. Unfortunately, by the time he got to school he had forgotten what he had ordered so still got upset. To save a lot of upset, it might help to remind your child every morning what they’re going to have for lunch.
If they really don’t like what’s on the menu, then it might be time to think about pack-up. On a side note – one teacher friend remembers an overly attentive mother offering to send a chicken pie for their child’s lunch in the hope a dinner lady might warm it up for him.
3. They’re overwhelmed by the change
Most parents expect their children to settle in quickly at school because they’ve spent the past year attending regular nursery. Sadly, the two aren’t that similar. Not only are nursery hours usually fewer and in shorter bursts than full-time school, they also operate under a different structure.
There’s not a great deal you can do about this change, other than rest assured the children eventually get used to it.
One big difference is that there will be more of a push on phonics and learning to read and write. If you encourage your children to do the homework the school sends home (bribe them if necessary), they’ll soon start to find the classroom work easier and it might help them settle faster.
4. They haven’t warmed to the teacher
My teacher friends assure me that all teachers are nice – especially in reception class – but that doesn’t stop children feeling a little dubious.
Some children take longer than others to reach a rapport with their teachers and might need more one-on-one time before they feel they can trust them. If your child hasn’t warmed to their teacher, it might be worth having a tactful chat with them. Don’t lead with “my kid doesn’t like you”, instead suggest your child might be feeling shy of the teacher and they’ll probably try and give them a little more individual attention.
Thankfully Greg loves his teacher and enthusiastically reassures me that “she’s not a shouter!”
5. They don’t like getting changed for PE
This is a really common dislike with the younger children. Getting changed for PE can be quite an ordeal if you’re still not skilled at getting dressed alone. My son’s school has PE in the morning and lets you send the kids in their kit – meaning they only need change once at school.
The key to fixing this issue is to encourage them to practice getting changed at home. We tried to help Greg by making it into a timed game, and after the first couple of weeks he was happy to change unaided.
6. They miss their parents
Pining for parents an incredibly common problem in the early days – especially if your child is used to part-time nursery followed by hours spent with a stay-at-home parent. There isn’t much you can do about this, because a full day at school is a non-negotiable.
One possible option is if you’re a stay at home parent who lives near the school, you could bring them home for lunch for the first few weeks. The only downside to this is that they miss out on valuable social time with their new friends.
7. They’re exhausted
There’s no doubt starting school is exhausting. Not only do the children have loads of new information and routines to take in, they also spend a longer time out of the house. The first term is likely to really wipe them out, so expects overwrought tears and complaints of tired legs on the way to and from school.
The solution for this one is obvious – send them to bed earlier! Even an early bedtime probably won’t fully resolve the early years exhaustion, so you might need to try out some hacks. Bring a box of raisins for an afternoon (energy boosting) snack, and maybe bring a scooter to help them whizz home on so they don’t have the chance to drag their feet!
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