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Beat the back to school nerves

Making the move to ‘big school’ can be daunting but there are ways to beat those first day nerves. Heather Large investigates. . .

School of life – help your children fight their fears
School of life – help your children fight their fears

It may seem like only yesterday that you were waving goodbye to your child at the gates on their first day of primary school.

But now the time has come for them to make the move to ‘big school’. ‘How can they be old enough?’ is what you’re probably thinking and you won’t be alone. Starting secondary school is a huge milestone not just in your child’s life but also for you as a parent.

And it’s more than likely that your son or daughter is anxious about what it’s going to be like – whether they choose to admit it or not.

First day nerves are only natural and your child will certainly not be the only one feeling like that. As the holidays draw to a close, they might appear to be taking it in their stride but they will not doubt start having worries about the big day.

They are going from being a big fish in a small pond at primary school to suddenly being surrounded by much older and bigger children which can be pretty intimidating.

They are leaving behind the familiarity of the classrooms and teachers they known and the daily routine they’ve been living for the past six years.

Now they have to get to grips with a much bigger campus, which will not doubt seem like a maze, and follow a weekly or fortnightly timetable to ensure they are in the right place at the right time.

Most days at primary school, they would just have needed a pencil case with everything else provided for them. But now they are responsible for ensuring they have all the text books, writing materials and equipment they need. As well as a rucksack, they may also have a locker, which will be another new experience and responsibility for them.

And for parents, one of the main changes of secondary school is that the responsibility suddenly shifts from parent to child – Year 7 pupils will be expected to be able to organise themselves every day.

If your child is late for school or doesn’t do their homework, they will be the one getting a detention. If they forget their PE kit, they will be the one having to explain to their teacher what’s happened and deal with the consequences.

With all these changes, they are, of course, going to be feeling a bit fearful of what is to come. So how can you help quash those first day nerves? Firstly if they are appearing worried sit them down and ask them how they are feeling. It may be that it’s something easily solved straight away – they might be worried about catching the bus so you could have a practice run with them.

If they are worried about homework, you could help them to be organised at home with a wall calendar and coloured folders to keep the work for each subject together.

Remind them that they are all in the same boat. They might be worried about having classmates they have never met before so whether your child is setting out on their own or will be joined by their primary school friends, encourage them to make the most of every opportunity to make new friends. Assure them that there is no need to forget the friends they already have.

And if there are being joined by classmates from primary school it can help them to arrange a meeting place with a friend when they arrive at the entrance on the first morning so that they can walk in together.

Chatting to an older sibling or friend about what to expect can be helpful – as long as they understand the need to be reassuring. Your child might open up to them more about their worries and getting advice from someone who has already been through it can make them feel better.

Even if you are worried for your child try to be upbeat and show your son or daughter that there is nothing to be afraid of. A good breakfast and plenty of sleep will help ensure that that they are ready to face the first week of new surroundings.

Remember that there are lots of exciting new opportunities at secondary school so they are bound to settle in before you know it. But don’t be afraid if it takes them a while to get used to the new routine and school environment as every child is different and there is no rule that says they have to make friends for life on the first day.

Don’t forget to take photos to mark the occasion – starting a new school is an exciting time, and one that needs to be cherished. Take photos of them in their uniform before they leave for the day so you both have a momento for the future.

And they come home on that first day try not to push them too much to talk about their day as they are likely to be extremely tired, drained and even overwhelmed.

Resist the temptation to ask too many questions however hard it may be. Do show them that you are there for moral support though, and that when they feel like talking you’re there.


  1. Establish a morning routine – the alarm clock on the first day of school can be a shock to the system, ease them into it by making sure they get up a bit earlier each day during the last week of the holidays. Encourage them to get their clothes laid out ready and bag packed the night.

  2. Shop for a school uniform – don’t leave this until the last minute, make sure you do this with plenty of time so that you can make sure you have the right size and appropriate clothing for all weather.

  3. Don’t forget a rucksack – this is important as your child will be carrying a lot on their back each day and more than they needed at primary school. Make sure it will provide enough support even if they choose to wear on one shoulder. It’s a good way for them to express their personality so make sure they get a say too.

  4. Stock up on stationery – it’s likely they will need plenty to start the term with so check what they need and make a list before you go shopping. It’s likely that they will need their own paper, folders,pencil case, pens, erasers and ruler as well as a calculator and geometry set.

  5. Practice the journey into school – if your child is travelling by bus for the first time or will be taking a new route on foot to school then it can help to do a trial run. This can be a cause of anxiety for them so it will help to ease their fears and will also help you to feel better too.

  6. Arrange a get together with friends – It’s likely that as the big day approaches your child will become more and more nervous so it might help them to discuss their worries with their friends. Make sure they have a day together to have fun and relax before the holidays end.

  7. Don’t get upset – It’s a big moment – your child’s first day at secondary school but make sure you deal with your own feelings. If they see you getting upset that they are ‘all grown up’ it could make them think there is something to worry about. Stay positive.

  8. Discuss what to do if something unexpected happens – Talk to them about how they could solve any transport problems should they need to use an alternative method to get to or back home from school.

  9. Have numbers ready – If your child will be having a mobile phone, ensure they have emergency numbers, the number for the school and a taxi firm programmed in. Provide your child with emergency money too.

  10. Reassure them – Make sure they know that everybody has the same fears on their first day of school and they are not alone. Find out what their worries are so you can talk through them or work on strategies that could help put them at ease.

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