We look at tips and tricks for dealing with first day at school jitters

One of the many ‘firsts’ you face as a foster parent includes your foster child’s first day at school. Whether they are starting off in Junior Infants with everyone else, or they’re coming in halfway through Sixth Year, that first day can be a tough one.

Foster children sometimes come from fractious backgrounds, so big changes – like a new school, or new routine – can be difficult or triggering. As such, making their first day in their new school as easy as possible is key.

At Orchard Fostering, we understand the realities of those first day jitters – and we’re here to help. We’ve compiled our best tips and tricks for helping prepare for the first day (back) at school.

  1. Prepare them for their first day well in advance

It’s always good to know ahead of time if your situation is about to change – that way, you can get yourself into the right frame of mind and be prepared for whatever is coming your way. Starting a new school is no different.

Let your foster child get to know about their new school before they start. This way, they’ll become familiar with their new environment – which helps reduce anxiety. There are a couple of ways you can help make your foster child more comfortable in their new school.

Try and visit the grounds before they have their first day. This way, they can get an idea of the journey they’ll make every morning, as well as the layout of the school and the yard. This trip acts as a dry run, making the first day less stressful.

If possible, see if they can speak to their new teacher. Your foster child’s teacher is an important person in their life – the relationship they forge with them can be instrumental in their perception of school. Getting some face time prior to school starting will help them develop that relationship – and give them a further boost when they see a familiar face on the first day.

  1. Alleviate their worries with a planning session

Once you’ve got the big preparations over with, it’s time to make a plan for the day itself. This is a nice bonding exercise for you and your foster child, as you sit down to conjure up a way to conquer a stressful day.

Begin your planning sessions by asking them about their worries. They might be concerned about not knowing anybody; meeting new teachers; finding their way around; or keeping up with the rest of the class. Do your best to relieve these worries – make it clear that they will get to know people in time; they’ve already met their teacher; they’ve visited the school before; and that you’ll be there to help them keep up with the rest of the class – if they need it.

With the worries out of the way (for now), it’s good to focus your foster child’s energy on more practical, easy-to-conquer problems.

  • Get their schoolbag out and make sure they have everything they need for the first day at school.
  • Lay their uniform out and ensure it’s all good to go.
  • Prepare their lunch with them, making something they really enjoy.
  1. Make sure the first day gets off to a good start – and a great end

Get into a bedtime routine a couple of nights before your foster child is starting in their new school. This helps their body clock adjust to their new reality and gives them a chance to ease into their new routine. It also prevents any crankiness on morning one!

Whip up a nutritious (and delicious) breakfast on their first morning – something filling that will keep them going until snack time/lunch. Porridge is a great slow release food that can help your foster child sustain their energy levels through a busy first day at school. Porridge is also rather boring, so feel free to add in yoghurt or fruit to make it a little more exciting!

If you can, bring your foster child to school on their first day. You can chat about their worries and hopes for their first day on the way. Once you’ve got to the drop-off point, say your goodbyes – but don’t embarrass them with any big displays of emotion. Just reassure them you’ll be back when school is over and let them on their way.

Soon enough, their first day will be over. Pick them up and bring them home. They’ll be exhausted, but make sure to have a good chat over a snack about their day – what happened, who they met, what their teacher is like. This will help your foster child decompress.

Once they’ve done their homework – which we’ll talk about in a later instalment of this series – you should treat them to their favourite meal. They’ve gone through something stressful and deserve a pat on the back for their efforts.

After that? Do it all again tomorrow!