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My first day

This week, thousands of mums and dads are seeing their children off to school for the first time. Chrissie Russell gets advice from Lynda Bryans and Sarah Travers on coping with the dreaded day

UTV presenter Lynda Bryans (45) has been through two first days at school with her sons PJ (12) and Christopher (10). She says:

I was very fortunate with both of mine because they took to school straight away. I think going to reception helped them get over that hurdle of going into a classroom environment.

It really does break them in- even though it's just like play time, it gets them used to the discipline of learning and listening to the teacher.

I remember PJ had an amazing teacher in his first year at school. She made learning fun and all the kids had immense respect for her - I think she definitely helped make PJ's first year at school a good experience for him. I remember him coming back home after his first day and straight away going to root around in his toy box for a car because everyone had to bring in something beginning with 'c'.

My second one has always aspired to be two years older like his brother so when it came to his first day he took to it even faster and any sense of loss was definitely on my part!

After Christopher I knew that was our family complete but I think you can look at it two ways - either with a sense of mourning for something that's passed or as the beginning of a whole new chapter opening up in our lives. I think it's important to enjoy those first occasions because you'll never get them again.

In P1 they look a bit ridiculous as a teeny-weeny soul standing there in a shirt, tie and blazer. They look so much like a grown-up but really they're still not long out of nappies. When you see that you really have to pull yourself together. On the first day I walked them up to the front door and handed them over, but as time goes on parents are encouraged to leave their children as far from the door as possible.

The biggest fear initially was that sense of handing your child over to someone else and having to trust that that person will treat them in the way they should be treated. But you have to do that and I suppose P1 is the first stage of letting go. I think some parents make a big deal of 'going to big school' and maybe building it up when they should be encouraging the children to take it in their stride.

Clearly you're going to feel some kind of emotional turmoil but you have to let go at every stage and allow them grow up. There's a tendency with everyone to look at moments and feel a sense of mourning.

You want to be peering in the window seeing what they're doing or if they've put their coat on the hook but you have to let them get on with it.

My advice is don't cry or make a big deal of it. Children will have their own wee anxieties and you have to support them as much as possible.

It's a special day so make the most of it. You're just building up trouble for the future if you molly-cuddle them.

BBC NI Newsline and Family Focus presenter Sarah Travers (33) is getting daughter Evie (4) ready for her first day at school. Her son Jack (10) is going into P7. She says:

I hadn't really been thinking about getting Evie ready for starting school and can't believe that summer's over and it's time to go and get school shoes and Barbie pencil cases ready.

This time round it's all the little girl stuff that has to be bought. Jack's got a big year this year with the 11-plus coming up. It's frightening how once they start school the time just flies by.

Evie's very, very confident in herself so I know she'll be fine - I'll be more upset! It was the same when Jack started - he had been a wee bit anxious but it was more that all the mummies were going away from the school with tears in their eyes.

As a parent you want to stay a little longer just to be a fly on the wall and see how they are interacting with the other children and what they are doing.

It's frustrating not to be able to see how they get on and you can't always expect to hear about it either. Often all I get is a 'fine' if I ask how school's gone!

Jack and Evie had both been to creches and were used to mixing with other children so I think that really helped prepare them for going out on their own. They're not needy or clingy but I remember Jack found it very exhausting starting school.


He was still used to having a nap during the day and was practically falling asleep into his tea in the first few weeks of P1. I can't believe now he's going into his final year of primary school. It really has flown by and soon he'll be starting another school and that will be another pile of emotions I'm not looking forward to!

Once the first day is over dropping them off at school very quickly just becomes the norm so I think it's nice to make the first day special and take plenty of photographs. Make sure you're up early enough to get organised but don't stay with them too long. Smile even if you are anxious because children will pick up on that anxiety. Above all just enjoy it, make it exciting and have faith in the teacher - she's used to seeing it every year and knows how to reassure them.

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