Ready for school?

Cathy Cookson at home with her children Connor, eight, and Molly, 18. Photo: Bill Smith for EDP Norf

Cathy Cookson at home with her children Connor, eight, and Molly, 18. Photo: Bill Smith for EDP Norfolk - Credit: Archant

We expect schools to educate our children – but what should schools expect from us?

I may not be the ideal person to write this piece.

Yes, my children have survived first days at playgroup, primary school, secondary school, sixth form and university.

Yes, my middle son even pronounced his first day at school “a little bit all right.”

Yes, they progressed to second days, third days and then weeks and months and years of school.

But I’m not sure they, or I, was ever completely prepared for any of it.

My parenting sins include regularly being “last mummy” to pick up at the end of the school day and missing a class assembly. My youngest claims lasting damage ensued because I was not there to hear his views on dinosaurs or the Tudors. Then, when I took my daughter to university for the first time I was so excited by the occasion – the city, the college, the people – that I was completely unprepared when she burst into tears as I was about to leave. I had been so focused on her new chapter that I momentarily forgot it was an ending too.

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Four years on it was time to install my son at university, and possibly still overcompensating for this oversight, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had abandoned a toddler in a city 200 miles from home, as I headed back to Norfolk.

My point, for parents trying to prepare their children for the new academic year, whether it is a first day at nursery or university, is that it is good practice to put yourself in your child’s place (but not to elbow your child out completely).

Cathy Cookson, of Brundall, is mum to 18-year-old Molly and eight-year-old Conor. She works as a counsellor and hypnotherapist and developed “student stress clinics” for sixthformers after starting working with stressed out teenagers when Molly was taking her GCSEs.

Her tips for new beginnings include:

Primary school

Familiarity is key, so bridge the gap between home and school, and help your child see school as an exciting extension of the world they know already.

Talk them through what to expect and make up happy stories together of what school could be like. Pack a family photograph in their bag in case they need a familiar face at hand.

Get them excited. Talk to them about the amazing new things they will experience.

Even if your heart is hurting watching your baby grow up so quickly, they will read from your cues. So keep smiling and then, if you need to, let it all out when they are out of sight!

High school.

Small fish, bigger pond. The jump from primary school to high school can evoke as sense of “Who am I now?” as they have gone from the eldest and coolest to the newbie. Talk to your child about how this feels for them.

Wanting to fit in. I remember my daughter became obsessed with a particular bag that other girls had. It was a way of feeling accepted and fitting in. Sometimes these small things can help to build confidence in your child.

Walk the route a few times and make sure they know what to expect with exact times, and have a back-up plan in place.

Exam therapy

Cathy Cookson has devised a special programme for youngsters facing exam stress.

She says: “It can be difficult to know the right balance between support and extra pressure. I did a lot of research and worked with Moll, her friends and their parents and carers. This quite naturally evolved into The Student Stress Clinics I run today, both privately and within local schools and colleges around Norfolk.”

One student says: “There were various things that made exams very daunting and difficult for me, but with help of Cathy I was able to work through the entire exam process more calmly and easily than I thought was possible. Cathy taught me exercises to help me keep a diary of my revision which meant I could plan and organise myself - something I’ve always struggled with.”

The aim is to help students stay calm and focus on what needs to be done.

She has been running the clinics at Paston Sixth Form College in North Walsham where students could drop in to talk through concerns, plan revision, and pick up relaxation and self-calming tips.

Cathy Cookson of The Green Room Hypnotherapy and Counselling, Lackford Close, Brundall, NR13 5NG; 07752

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