100113. Cape Town. A emotional Katelin Daniels hugs her daddy before going to her first day in Gr 1 at Vanguard Primary. She is one of a triplet goint to school today. Picture Henk Kruger

Cape Town - Love them, hug them, then leave. This is the best thing you can do for your little ones on their first day of school, say experts.

Each year the photographs of tearful children are published in newspapers. The evening news shows inconsolable and sobbing children. It’s their first day at school and some will experience nothing more traumatic in their young lives.

Dr Andrew Lewis, educational psychology lecturer at Stellenbosch University, says parents can do many things to ease their children’s anxiety. And the preparation starts long before they reach the school gates.

He says making sure that uniforms and stationery are bought ahead of time makes things easier.

If there is an elder sibling at the school, have a chat with them, too.

“Ask the older child if they remember what their first day was like, and how you could help to make it better for the younger sibling. Make the older one part of the process.”

Lewis says parents should ask the elder sibling if it’s okay for their brother or sister to check in with them if they start feeling anxious.

Liana Collet has been a preschool teacher for 10 years and says parents should get their children excited about starting school.

Tell them about how they will learn to read and write, about their new uniforms and the new friends they’ll make at school, she advises. All this helps the children to look forward to the big day.

Penny Vinjevold, head of education in the province, says in a message to Grade 1 parents that if your child enjoys their first few days at school, they will learn more easily, grow in confidence and build a solid foundation for the rest of their learning life.

Parents should avoid telling children how much they’ll miss them each day. Instead, reassure them that you will pick them up at the end of each day, says Collet.

Children should get to bed early the night before. When packing their lunch, make sure it’s healthy.

“Don’t pack Coke, sweets or chips. Stick to what they know. Keep it healthy and leave a note in there with a smiley face. Something to make them feel special when they see it.”

Lewis says it’s important for parents to leave early on the first day, as many will misjudge the traffic. If parents get stuck in traffic, they get anxious, and that anxiety rubs off on their children.

Collet says the best thing parents can do for their children on their first day of school is to show them lots of love, but to leave quickly.

“It’s a very emotional experience, but parents have to be strong. The more you show emotion, the more they will.”

Collet says that leaving their children is particularly stressful to parents as they’re entrusting their children to someone they barely know.

She advises parents not to linger too long, because by doing that, they’re prolonging the anxiety.

“The longer you stay, the worse you make it.”

But it does get easier. Collet says that once they have built a rapport with the teacher, parents feel better. And after about two weeks, the children will have settled into their new routine, and feel safe and secure in their new environment.

Collet and Lewis agree that parents shouldn’t have to worry about their children making friends. If they are well adjusted, they will have no difficulty gravitating towards other children they like and want to befriend.

And once they’ve made it through their first day, it will be important for parents to ask the child how their day went, what they did and how they feel, says Lewis.

This may help ease the parents’ own anxiety, too.

But its is often easier said than done, even for the experts.

Collet’s daughter starts Grade 1 on Wednesday, and Lewis’s son starts university this year.

The thought of a new environment for their children is daunting for both. No matter how old their children are, the anxious feeling when children step into unknown territory, is something that never really goes away, Lewis admits. - Cape Argus