Nerves, tears and tantrums — and that’s just the mums. Kerry McKittrick asks some of our best-known mothers how they cope with that heart-wrenching first day at school
‘Our boys were eased in by going to nursery’
UTV and U105 presenter Lynda Bryans (46) lives in Belfast with husband Mike Nesbitt and two sons, PJ (13) and Christopher (11). She says:
"Our son PJ was a very responsible child. He knew his first day at school was coming up and he just got on with it. His Primary One teacher was excellent, she’d been teaching for years and PJ still thinks of her as his favourite teacher. He got eased in gently, he just toddled in and was fine. It was quite easy for me too, because at that time I still had Christopher at home to distract me.
Christopher was different, because when I went home after dropping him off, there was no one there.
They were both eased in by going to nursery. It was easy for Christopher because his big brother was there, and he always wanted to be like him, the big boy going to school.
For tips I would say to the mums to have something organised to take their mind off the day.
A coffee with other mums or something like that is a good idea. It gets better over time and, after all, they will be back with you by the end of the day."
‘Caitlin has had two first days’
Debby Armstrong (32) is a property developer and married to former NI international footballer Gerry Armstrong. They have two daughters, Caitlin (8) and Marianna (2), and divide their time between Belfast and Majorca. She says:
"I was more worried than Caitlin about her first day at school. I was worried about being separated from her but I didn’t want her to see I was nervous as that would have made her nervous.
We made a big outing of the whole thing, had a fashion show with her in her new uniform and tried to make it as exciting as possible. She was nervous on her first day, but she came skipping out as she’d had such a good time. It turned out she knew a couple of the kids from her class so it wasn’t totally strange for her. I was the one in tears every time I thought of her! Caitlin’s had two first days at school because we’ve recently started her at an international school in Majorca, where we’ll be spending a lot of our time. We chose that rather than a Spanish school because we wanted her to keep English as her first language.
It was strange because we didn’t know anyone involved with the school, none of the kids or mums. Caitlin was excited in the build up to it, but on the day itself she was hiding behind my legs. She’s fine now and has friends in her class. Because there are only eight kids in each class it is a very close-knit school.
I sent my youngest, Marianna, to a creche in Majorca, because I wanted her to get used to the language. She cried her eyes out when I dropped her off and picked her up on the first day, but the girls there told me she’d been absolutely fine the whole day.
For mothers who are sending their kids to school for the first time over the next few days, I would advise them to make a big deal out of it and to turn it into an adventure. Try not to show you’re nervous, because they will pick up on it.
I think it also helps if you know kids that are going to be in the same class, and have them over to play during the summer. It means there will be a familiar face once they get into the classroom.”
‘I cried after leaving my son at school’
Downtown Radio presenter Lisa Flavelle (36), lives in Belfast with husband Tim, son Ben (10) and daughter Rosa (1). She says:
"The build-up is really exciting for the first day at school, particularly when the kids get their new uniform. They look so different in that, and it’s always over-sized because they have to grow into it. On Ben’s first day we walked to school, and then he just ran in and didn’t look back.
For me there was a real sense of ‘now what do I do?’.
You spend so much of your life with them as infants that you really don’t know what to do with yourself if they’re not around, and get restless waiting for home time. I had a cry on the way back down the road. It was a positive experience for Ben, though.
At that age they’re ready for the social side of school, and the new experiences and routines of it. It’s the start of their independent life, a different thing from when they’re at a childminder or nursery, because now they start learning to do things for themselves.
I suppose the best tip is that even if your heart is breaking you should turn it into a positive thing.
You need to tell them that it is going to be brilliant, they’ll have lots of fun and make loads of friends.
If you’re anxious they’ll pick up on it.”
‘It’s really important you talk about it and tour school first’
Mary McCartney (37) is a former model and Miss Northern Ireland. Now a teacher, she lives in Enniskillen with husband Terry, son Lewis (6) and daughter Ellie (3). She says:
"Lewis was really excited about his first day of school. It was different for him because it was the school where I teach. He was quite happy, if a little apprehensive, but I knew the best thing for me to do was to let him enjoy it on his own.
He was able to meet his friends from nursery, and him having been there meant that he had developed his social skills a little and wasn’t as dependent on me.
I was the one who was emotional — I found it very hard. My classroom was downstairs from his, and I kept an ear out in case there was a knock on the door because he wasn’t settling in.
I did go and talk to his teacher at breaktime, which made me feel more at ease. Ellie will start nursery this year, which eases you in. You bring them in for an hour at the start and then stay with them. She’s a bit more confident than Lewis and will take things in her stride.
A good tip is to encourage children to socialise over the summer. Have lots of playdates so they’ll make friends in their class and get used to interacting with other kids.
It’s also important to talk about it, show them the building, even take a tour if it’s possible. Turn it into an adventure and make a big deal of picking out things like pencil cases and school bags.
Mums should trust the P1 teacher. It can be difficult if they don’t know them that well, but they do know what they’re doing. It’s also a good chance to meet some of the other mums on the first day and go for a coffee.”