How to help your five-year-old cope with going to school for the first time

Source: Sydney Morning Herald

A very happy 2021 to all our readers!  We start our blog series this year with some interesting articles on schooling.  Starting school is a major achievement for our nation.  At the height of the pandemic, our schools were forced to shut down and kids were sent home to study.  In the months that followed, we continued to experience shutdowns and restarts.  But thanks to a resilient government and its people, the 2021 school year kicked off with a bang last week!

School may be slightly different this year because of social distancing and hand-sanitising but many of the challenges parents and kids faced at school remain the same.    


  1. Separation anxiety

If the first week of school for your child came with a lot of crying and heel digging, they could be suffering from separation anxiety.  


Parents sometimes find it hard to understand how their well-adjusted five-year-old who did not have any problems going to kindy should all of a sudden develop anxiety when it comes to attending school.   


Going to school is a major adjustment for a five-year-old. Your child has to wear a school uniform and follow a more structured routine.  Some of the friends they are used to playing with may not be attending the same school.  It is a new environment with many new faces.

Here are some tips that may help:


  • Keep a positive mindset.

Your child mirrors your behaviours.  So, stay calm and be confident that things will go well.  Don’t be tempted to repeatedly ask your child if he or she is frightened because you are only reinforcing the fear.  Observe your child’s behaviours and take cues from your observation to broach the subject.


  • Role play.

It’s still not too late to reinforce positive behaviours.  Try role-playing at home.  Use their favourite stuffed toys to be characters in your storytelling.  For example, teddy goes to school and mommy teddy comes to school to pick him up later.  Show them it is okay to be separated for a while because you will be coming back to collect them.


  • Read a book.

There are some great books you can read to your child.  Look for books that describe what happens in school and deal with the different emotions to help your child cope with change.


Here are a few we can recommend:

Emily Elephant

Emily Elephant is new in school.  She is shy and reserved.   A five-year old who is feeling overwhelmed in his or her first days at school will be able to relate to Emily Elephant’s feelings in the book.


If your five-year old is an extrovert, this book can become an inspiration to help a quieter classmate cope with school.

Jane Goodwin’s ‘Starting School

Jane Goodwin’s ‘Starting School’ is a brilliant read for all parents and kids who are starting formal school for the first time.  Read about the five main characters’ feelings and experiences of their first day at school and all the activities that will soon become routine like packing their school lunches, making new friends and break times.

Lauren Child’s

Is your five-year-old giving you a million reasons why he or she can’t attend school?  Read Lauren Child’s ‘I am too absolutely small for school’ to them if you want to change their minds.  In the book, Lola learns that going to school means she can count beyond ten, write her own Christmas wish list to Santa and read a bedtime story to daddy instead.  What fun!

How to deal with school drop-off anxiety

School drop-offs can be stressful if your child is not coping well with his or her transition to school.  Here are some ways you can help alleviate their anxiety:

Create a goodbye ritual – Have goodbye routines that can comfort and reassure your child.  These can be a special hug or a high five or a ‘See you later, sport’.  Once you have said your goodbyes, don’t linger.  You don’t want your child to be preoccupied with your continued presence.

Don’t sneak away – It may be tempting but don’t sneak off.  There is nothing more traumatic for a child than to suddenly turned around to find their parent missing. 

Bring something comforting – Pack something comforting for your child.  It can be a small toy, a favourite blanket or the drink bottle they use at home. 

Don’t make comparisons – Your child’s feelings are important.  Don’t chastise or make comparisons with other children. 

Reassure and reward – Tell your child, you will be back to collect them.  Consider giving them a reward to encourage positive behaviours. Here’s what one mother did.  She put a star on the calendar every time her little boy went to school without any fuss.  At the end of the first week, her son had accumulated five stars and was rewarded with a special game of treasure hunt.  Rewards do not have to be lollies and toys all the time.  It can be a fun activity or an extra half an hour in the playground. 

What to do if your child tells you he or she hates going to school

It can happen.  Your little five-year-old loves school for the first week or so.  Then one morning, he does not want to go to school.  What do you do?

Listen to your child.

Our knee-jerk reaction is to say ‘No, you don’t’. If we tell our kids what to think and how to feel, we may be repressing their feelings which can have a negative outcome.

Avoid responses that repress. For example:

“But you love school!” or “You’ll get over it” or “All your friends love it here” or even “Don’t say hate! It’s not a nice word!”

Instead, try responding with empathy and understanding.  Use encouraging words like:

“I know you are upset.  Do you want to talk to me about it?” or “I understand how you are feeling… Can you tell me why?”

Finding the root of the problem is the first step to solving it.  We would like to share one of our mothers’ experience with our readers.  Her five-year-old started school on Wednesday.  Her daughter had been looking forward to school for months.  “Indie was super excited about school. It was all she could talk about for weeks,” her mother said.  The first day of school went without any hitches.  Indie loved her uniform.  She stood quietly in line as the teacher ushered the students into class.  She waved goodbye happily and did not seem scared or frightened that morning.  On the second morning, she had to be woken up for school and for the first time since she started kindy, Indie started to cry.  She did not want to go to school anymore.  “We sat down and talked to her.  We found out that she was frightened of the boys in school because they would chase the girls around the yard.  Indie is not a very fast runner.  The boys caught up with her. She was scared,” her mother explained.

An unfortunate and unpleasant experience can trigger negative responses in your child.  If you know what the triggers are, you can help your child. 

Here are some techniques to help your child cope with a difficult school experience:

Avoid fanning the flames.


Let your child speak candidly about their feelings.  Avoid adding fuel to an already sensitive situation. 


If the boys in the school were scaring your child, it’s not going to help if you tell your child, little boys are naughty and likes scaring little girls.  If your child is upset with their teacher, it doesn’t help if you say: “I saw your teacher talking to another kid that way.  I don’t like your teacher too.”


The magic wand technique


The magic wand can solve many children’s angsts.  Ask you, child, if he or she has a magic wand to make things better what would they use it for? The magic wand can help Indie say to the boys “I don’t want to play catching, thanks.”  So, when Indie is stressed, she can wave her magic wand and find the courage to tell the boys firmly she does not want to play. 


Avoid giving days off.


Giving your child a day away from school may seem like a good idea but if there is one thing anxiety loves – it is avoidance.  If your child is feeling anxious about going to school and you allow them to stay away from school, this anxiety will continue to manifest.  A better tactic is to give your child the coping mechanisms, so they have the fortitude and strength to deal with a problem. 

Starting school is a new experience for a five-year-old.  There are many challenges ahead and these challenges will shape their future lives as adults.  As parents, the best way we can help our children to cope is staying positive ourselves and giving them the support to empower them to handle their day-to-day interactions in school as best as they can. 

Share your child’s first day at school on social here.


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