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Children, young people and families, Education

Navigating the emotions of starting primary school

Advice and guidance for parents from an early years educational psychologist

25 August 2023

As a new academic year approaches, many children will be getting ready for their first day at primary school, and they and their parents may be feeling anxious or worried about this significant moment. 

To help parents and carers navigate this momentous occasion, the British Psychological Society (BPS) has provided top tips from its expert members, helping children to feel happy, safe and secure as they start in their new setting.

Dr Abigail Wright, Specialist Senior Early Years Educational Psychologist and member of the BPS's Division of Educational and Child Psychology, says:

"Starting school can be an emotionally demanding time for both children and parents, as young ones experience separation from their caregivers and branch out into a new world for the first time.
"Separation could feel difficult because being and feeling close is key to a little one's (and also sometimes an adult's) feelings of safety and security. Developing familiarity and trust will be key to supporting them to settle."

Dr Wright has provided some practical tips on how to best manage the transition:

Communicate with your child in a positive and cheerful way about starting school – "It is so exciting that you're going to see your friends again", "I wonder what you will play…" You can use visuals, signs, sounds, touch - to help communicate according to your child's unique preferences. 

Your child might feel many emotions, including sad, angry or scared. Be available for them, don't be too quick to distract them, and at the end, remind them of all the good things about starting school.

Develop fun and multi-sensory ways to 'check in' with how your child is feeling e.g., through song/rhyme, play or art. Photographs or pictures of activities/objects and songs can help to develop children's awareness and their understanding of new routines. 

Be patient with your child – they may not be able to do things that they were able to do before. Even though they could use the toilet before starting school, they might start having accidents. This is normal.

"Above all, reassure your child, says Dr Wright. "When you have chatted to them, reassure them that you will be there to answer any questions or talk about this again in the future when they want to."

Dr Wright is on Twitter: @psychedmum

Download some other resources created by Abigail and her team at Neath Port Talbot Educational Psychology Service: