New people, new places, new friends, new faces — starting school is a huge change for any child. But what if the one struggling to adapt is you?
Your "baby" is no longer a baby. You've watched them crawl, stumble and finally find their feet, and now they're off to school, leaving you at home with a lump in your throat.
They're learning new things and enjoying their independence, but you're probably experiencing a huge sense of loss. And that's perfectly normal, says Anna Cohen, senior clinical psychologist at Kids & Co Clinical Psychology.
"When a child starts school, the mum often feels as if she's handing over responsibility for that child to someone else," Anna says. "It can be difficult to let go of something so important."
Difficult, but not impossible.
Change your thinking
"Starting school marks the end of a developmental stage and means huge changes to your family life," Anna says. The trick is to think of those changes as something necessary for your child's development.
"We try to help parents see that their child has a 'job' to do," Anna says. "That job is to complete certain developmental tasks, such as learning from their mistakes, understanding the consequences of breaking rules, developing self-control and responsibility, and learning to cooperate with others."
As a parent it's possible — and important — to help your child with those tasks. "Be a source of information," Anna says. "Be clear with them about routines. Let them experience the consequences of their actions at home. Help them learn how to do things for themselves."
Fill the gap
A problem for some stay-at-home mums is filling the hours when their child is at school. "When you're used to your day revolving around caring for someone, it can come as a shock when they're not there anymore," Anna says. "The secret is to stay busy, so try creating an activity schedule for yourself."
Perhaps you've always wanted to take up a hobby, have more time to exercise, or simply read all those books that have been gathering dust on your shelf. As long as you're not sitting around waiting for school to finish you'll be doing yourself a favour — and we all need a little "me" time now and then.
"Make sure you schedule in some quality 'child' time too," Anna says. "Once they start school it can feel as if you never have any special time with them. It doesn't have to be something major — Friday afternoon milkshakes or a bedtime story can work wonders."
Get involved Don't see school as something you are excluded from. You might not be there with your child, but you can still be involved in their day. "Know what your child likes and what's all the rage at school," Anna says. "Whether it's Zac Efron, Nintendo DS or a cartoon character, find out about it so you know what they're talking about."
It's also worth meeting with the teacher at the start of term to see what your child will be learning about. Then you can build on that at home by reading bedtime stories or drawing pictures on the same subject.
"Being involved like this allows you to feel connected, which is important as feeling disconnected is a big worry for mums," Anna says. Some schools even provide the opportunity for parents to be involved in lessons or school excursions, so ask staff for details.
Finally, be aware that however you feel about your child going to school will probably rub off on them. "Children are very perceptive, so it's important to stay positive," Anna says. "If you feel confident that you and your child can cope, so will they."
Starting school can be hard enough for some children, and seeing you weep at the school gates will make it even harder. So stay strong, stay involved and enjoy the peace and quiet!