10 things we wish someone had told us before our kids started primary school
1. By 3pm, you will be looking forward to cheery chats about what they did all day - and your child will be catatonic and capable of only muttering 'fine, fine, dunno, fine, can't remember, pasta' (that's the answer to 'what did you have for lunch?').
Forget any idea of your child being pleased to see you - you will be greeted at the classroom door by a tired and grumpy person (your child, not the teacher...well not unless they've had a REALLY bad day).
Make sure there are early nights all round – and that includes you as you'll need extra energy to deal with the moodiness! Sometimes the after-school gremlins can be due in part to hunger, so it might also be worth taking a small snack along to pick up. The good news is that things should get better after a few weeks, once they've adjusted...
2. ...that is until the little grouch monster returns towards the end of term each and every term. This is due to the occurrence of a condition affecting many a child, called 'endoftermitis' (symptoms: think teenage behaviour scaled down to five-year-old size).
The solution? Obviously this is down to tiredness so yet more early nights if possible. And just knowing what it is will help you stay calm. It's also worth keeping your child's weekend and after school time relatively quiet for the last week or so of term if they are prone to this phenomenon.
3. Every class, by law, MUST have at least one hideously gossipy parent and one uber-competitive parent.
(We wonder if council education departments allocate school places on this basis - you know, just to spread them out a bit and make sure we all have one!) Get involved with them at your peril.
When uber-competitive mum asks what reading level your child is on or what their end of year report was like, feign a sudden fit of acute amnesia ("Oh I've got a terrible memory and I never remember anything like that"). Answer all Mrs Gossipy's questions with 'I don't know'. If that gets boring and predictable, occasionally throw in a "gosh that is an interesting question, I'll get back to you" for variety.
4. There is a strange black hole in every single primary school into which items of uniform fall and rarely return, even if they are labelled.
Uniform WILL get lost, and no matter how good a memory your child has for the weekly order of football's Premier League table or the names of every single Rainbow Fairy fairy, they will inevitably leave half their stuff at school (that is when they need it at home. Things they need at school, conversely, will be left at home).
So remind them (twice or more) that it's PE day/ they need to bring their book home.
Meanwhile, label, label, label all belongings and given that they might still get lost regardless, don't send anything especially precious (apart from your child obviously) into school ever.
5. In the first years, your child will most likely switch best friends faster than a Z-list celebrity.
It's perfectly normal (the best friend changing, maybe not the Z listers and their gentlemen friends).
Solution: don't get too embroiled with the 'best friend's' parents, and don't act like the kids are wedded together in holy matrimony for the rest of their school days. They probably won't be. Oh and keep a tissue and a sympathetic shoulder to hand for when they do fall out.
6. Even if yours is the most popular kid in the class (while we're on that subject - try not to get het up about this - as long as they are happy and have a few friends who cares whether they're a future prom queen or king or whatever sign of popularity there is?), they will inevitably be on the receiving end of some teasing at some stage.
Teach your child to take little things with a pinch of salt and focus on helping him or her be robust and confident enough to not care that little Johnny thinks that watching Cbeebies when you're in reception is 'just soooo babyish'.
Let them know that persistent teasing or out and out bullying is a completely different matter and requires action [see – link to feature] - that they can always tell you or the teacher about this and you will be there for them.
7. You won't have much of a clue about what goes on during their day in class.
The teacher can't realistically tell you (see number 9 below) - this can be hard to get used to compared to most pre-schools or nurseries which tend to provide quite a lot of feedback to parents at picking up time.
It's reasonable to briefly ask the teacher for broad information on what they're learning or whether they are settling in OK (just not every day unless there are specific issues), but generally no news is good news. Normally, you will have a parents' evening by around October half term to get more detailed information.
You will have to adjust to not receiving daily or weekly info, unless your child chooses to tell you something. However don't expect them to disclose much.
8. If your offspring attend a state school, you will still have to pay for things.
You will probably receive requests for money for trips, clubs and the like on a regular basis. Make sure you budget for this. School lunches might be around £2.20 a day per child. A club could be a fiver a session (often payable up front for the whole term) but it varies according to what it is.
Remember that you don't have to say yes to every club your child asks to join, especially if you can't really afford it. Don't feel bad – they undoubtedly won't be the only one not doing karate AND football AND French AND art club.
If paying for trips or school meals is an issue, speak to the school as they should be able to advise you on any financial assistance available (if you're a low income family, you might be eligible for free school meals).
9. The teacher will care about your child but does have 29 other charges to look after.
If every pupil's parent asked them for a five minute chat on a given day, they'd be there for two and a half hours! If you have a question for them, choose your timing carefully. After school is usually better than dropping off time, when he or she will be focused on getting all the kids settled and ready for the day. Most teachers don't mind a quick informal question, but if you've something more in-depth to discuss, make an appointment through the school office. That way, you'll also be able to talk about whatever it is without the aforementioned 'gossipy parent' listening into your every word!
10. And last but not least, the cliché is true - before you know it your child really will be one of those 'almost as big as you' year 6 kids, so enjoy every moment.
Liat Hughes Joshi is author of Raising Children: The Primary Years - a guide to parenting primary school age children.