The first day of school is a big step both for you and your child. Your child’s first experience of separating from their mother (or primary caregiver) is a developmental necessity and one of the most critical milestones in their journey to become an individual. But does that mean it should be a traumatic experience? Certainly not. On the first day of your child’s educational journey, most schools force you to abandon their children at the school gate and leave.
Why are we against parents abandoning children?
Abandoning children at school on their first day and letting them cry and cope with it is deeply concerning and not acceptable for several reasons. As parents and guardians, we have a responsibility to provide a stable and supportive environment for our children as they embark on their educational journey. Leaving them alone on their first day can have severe negative consequences on their emotional and psychological well-being, as well as their academic development.
Being left alone in an unfamiliar environment among unfamiliar people can cause extreme emotional distress for a child. They may feel abandoned, anxious, and scared, leading to feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem. This experience can leave a lasting impact on their attitude towards school and learning.
Broken sense of security
Children rely on their parents or caregivers for a sense of security and comfort. Abandoning them on their first day can shatter this sense of security, making them question their safety in this world. Such a rift in their secure base in early childhood can lead to attachment issues and difficulties in forming healthy relationships later in life.
This experience can lead to a breakdown of trust between the child and the parent. It may become difficult for the child to confide in their parents or seek their support in the future, further impacting their emotional development. Not many parents realise how long such a breach of trust can take to heal and for children to trust them again.
The first day of school is an essential milestone for a child to start developing social skills and making friends. Abandoning them can hinder this process, making it harder for them to integrate into the classroom environment and form positive relationships with teachers and peers.
Feeling emotionally distraught and insecure can significantly impact a child’s ability to focus and engage in learning activities. This might lead to a decline in their academic performance and hinder their progress throughout the school year.
In most parent-school relationships, schools seem to have the upper hand and are not easily approachable. They do not let parents in to see how their child is doing. Parents are expected to blindly trust that the school is doing right by the child rather than letting them witness it themselves. There’s no way for parents to ensure the safety of their children when they are forced to abandon them on Day 1.
Then, why do schools force you to abandon your child?
Quicker, faux settling
Children who experience such abandonment go through a period of intense trauma and subsequently choose to focus on intellectual work rather than the emotionally painful experience of being abandoned. They choose to engage their left brain rather than their right brain. This is misinterpreted by schools as children settling soon. Since this is quicker and easier for the school to implement as a standard procedure rather than design an empathetic, attachment-based transition plan, they opt for it.
Block out parents
Parents taking an active part in the transition witness their child in the environment and tend to have a lot of questions, either from a place of anxiety and apprehension or a genuine interest in understanding more about their children and their behaviour. This can sometimes get overwhelming for the guides. Since parent education and empowerment are an essential part of our approach, the time spent addressing the concerns and answering the questions is totally worth it. However, it may not be the case for schools that do not want to actively engage with parents but rather block them out and be less approachable.
How can we do this better? And how do we handle the transition here at TTC?
Recognise that it is a transition
The first step to creating a non-traumatic experience is to recognise and be sensitive to the fact that starting school is a process of transition from always being with trusted adults in a safe home environment to a strange and unfamiliar school environment for half a day every day. Unless schools realise this, they will not care about creating an emotionally safe transition plan for the child.
A parent/guardian stays at school
We require one of the trusted adults of the child, be it a parent, grandparent or guardian, to stay at school until the child builds trust with the teacher, their peers and the environment as a whole. Depending on each child, we have seen this take just a few days up to a month’s time. Once the child develops trust in the new environment, they can be dropped off. But until then, parents are required to stay in case the child wants to be with them to feel safe or wants to go home.
Home visits before the child starts school
Parents, if they choose to, can invite the guides to visit their homes a few times and spend some time with the child. This way, the guide can start building a relationship with the child in the safety and familiarity of their own homes. If parents invite the guide home, it means that they trust the guide, and this helps the child trust the guide too and settle soon at school.
Using transitional objects
“Transitional Objects are items which are both created and discovered by an infant for comfort, and to support the developmental necessity of separating from their primary caregiver.”– Donald Winnicott (1951), Child Psychologist.
Such transitional objects are a part of the emotional support system every child needs in their early years. When they are separated from you, it will reassure them. When they are upset, it will comfort them. When they’re in a strange place, it will help them feel at home.
We put up photos of families of the children within the environment. This will aid them during the period of transition as this acts as a point of reference, familiarity and a source of security.
Children may have transitional objects in the form of their favourite plush toy, a doll, a blanket or a toy car. We are contemplating allowing children to bring it to school during this transition period.
Instead of abandoning their children on the first day of school, parents should actively participate in this significant transition. By doing so, they can create a positive and supportive environment that fosters their child’s emotional well-being and helps them embrace the joy of learning. Engaging in open communication, showing empathy, and being present during this crucial phase can set a strong foundation for a child’s future educational success and emotional growth.