Almost everything you need to know about parenting the school years
We've got your back - everything from starting primary school to coping with bullies and teenage parties
Parenting a child through school brings its own challenges - we can help
As a parent of school aged children, you know that the learning never ends! You think parenting will be easier when they go to school, but there’s a huge amount of information to absorb, networks to work and friendships to build. It can feel something like going back to school yourself.
You might be worried about what your child’s teacher will be like, if your child can manage the basics like tying their shoelaces or finding the classroom, or bigger worries like finding friends and bullying. As they get older, you’ll be facing teenage issues including parties, social media and sleepovers.
Here at Classlist, we’re all parents, we’ve all helped our children through starting and moving schools and we’ve all volunteered on PTAs. So we know what it’s like. We’ve made ALL the mistakes. And we’ve asked our huge community of Classlist parents (300,000+) for their advice on all things parenting - the school years. Sometimes, mum overwhelm becomes all too real. We're here to help.
In this article, we’re going to show you
- How to support your child going to primary school and secondary school
- A back to school checklist
- How to settle at international school
- Teachers’ presents - what they really want
- What to do if your child is being bullied at school
- How to cope with the summer holidays
- The teenage years - social media, phones, exams, parties and sleepovers
There's a reason we've been named top app for parents by The Good Web Guide!
How to support your child going to primary school
Starting primary school: what you need to know
Who better to give you advice on the school run than parents who do it, day in and day out? We asked a group of mums to let us in on their top parenting tips for starting primary school. The result is 16 great nuggets of advice on starting primary school from mums on what to buy, getting the routine right, settling your child at school and dealing with the inevitable initial tiredness. It comes as a shock to many that parenting doesn't instantly become easier the moment they start school.
Things to buy
- “If you need shorts, buy them early. By September, the shops are full of long trousers, but it’s often still sunny when term starts.” Louise
- “Schools often have second hand uniform for sale, which is useful for things like school branded jumpers, which you can’t get in a supermarket. You’ll need plenty of uniform backup because it always comes home covered in lunch.” Amy
- “Buy school shoes in the last week of holidays to avoid growth spurt dramas. And steer clear of lace-ups – teachers will thank you for it.” Verity
Additions to your routine
- “Apply eight-hour sunscreen before you leave the house. Also, keep an eye out for nits by doing a weekly comb through in front of the TV.” Nadine
- “Be organised. You can’t expect a four or five-year-old to remember their PE kit or reading folder. I have a list on the fridge for each kid for each term.” Louise
- “Schools (unlike nursery) have strict timings for drop off and pick up. Mornings were stressful for us until I started getting the shoes and bags lined up the night before and even laying the breakfast table.” Verity
First day advice and extra help settling in
- “I know we all want that first day photo, but try to make it a normal day without too much fuss.” Lisa
- “Don’t bring other relations with you on day one – it’s already hectic without extra people tagging along.” Rowan
- “If a little one is having problems separating at drop off, ask the teacher to give them a job to do as soon as they arrive. It really helped my son Joseph to be the ‘handy helper’ on arrival.” Charlotte
Coping with tiredness
- “Never underestimate how tired your children will be when they come home. Don’t plan anything in the evenings after school at first – just an early supper and an unhurried bedtime routine.” Heidi
- “Don’t bombard them with questions as soon as you pick them up. You can ask away later.” Louise
- “Bring snacks at pick up time. Sometimes kids need a little energy boost just to get home.” Phoebe
⭐️ Classlist top tip: We were so taken with how keen our group of Classlist parents were to share their hard-won tips. Want to find your own band of welcoming parents when you start school? You can’t beat the PTA as a first point of call. Many PTAs organise coffee mornings to welcome new parents to the school. Joining the PTA is a great way to get to know other parents – they are always grateful for a helping hand. Find them on Classlist - or introduce us to your school and be a game-changer!
We’ve created a fab downloadable guide to help your child start primary school. It’s packed with advice from parents and teachers!
Find out what teachers wish you knew before your child starts school
“Parents often tell me they feel isolated if they can’t get to the school in person but Classlist has brought them back into the school community. I’ve made friends through Classlist. We adopted it recently and not only did I get an invitation to Christmas drinks from someone I didn’t know before, but also we used it to organize the teacher’s Christmas present and presentation – which the other parents really appreciated.”
Jude Mills, Class Rep at Newnham Croft Primary, Cambridge
How to support your child going to secondary school
Starting secondary school: what you need to know
It’s a tipping point, where children go from being the big fish in a little pond, to a little fish in a big pond. All of a sudden they go from being one of the oldest children in school to one of the youngest. There’s a lot to get used to - the timetable, the many teachers, buildings and routine. We’ve created a guide to help parents when their children start secondary school - you’ll have to be ready to check your child’s school emails to make sure they are on top of homework and be ready with all the answers when it comes to mobile phone use.
How to encourage independence and safety
It’s a huge leap for parents and their children when all of a sudden, they are walking to school alone. We’ve asked our Classlist community and come up with these tips to help ease that transition - making it less scary for the adults as well as the children!
- Practice the journey to and from school together until they’re confident
- Find a friend for your child to share the walk or bus ride with
- Talk to your child about how they can protect themselves when they’re out. They’ll need to be advised to stay with friends whenever possible. It’s also worth reminding them that it’s ok to hand over their phone or money if they are threatened.
- Talk through contingency plans - what will they do if they miss the bus?
All in the routine
You’re likely to have an earlier start to contend with, as most secondary schools are geographically further away that primaries. It’s essential to get everything ready the night before to avoid the morning panic. A bedtime routine is also the gift you don’t want to miss. The National Sleep Foundation says: “Teens need about eight to 10 hours of sleep each night to function best. Most teens do not get enough sleep — one study found that only 15% reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights.”
A back to school checklist
Set up your child for success with this quick checklist
Practical tips for starting secondary school
- Attend school induction or taster days
- Ensure all the school paperwork is complete
- Practise the new school run
- Meet up with other new starters over the summer
- Practice tie-tying!
- Set up a homework desk in a quiet place
- Write lists of what your child needs to remember each day - eventually they will remember themselves...
Equipment for secondary school
- Get all the gear – school bag, uniform and PE kit
- Collect the stationery (schools often provide a list) and technology required (mobile? iPad?)
- Pop a written list of family phone numbers into the school bag, just in case
- A stretchy key fob attached to the to the school bag will make their locker key hard to lose
- Put emergency money in a hidden pocket
- Get labelling! Everything will go missing at some point but it’s worth trying! Start with the most costly items.
⭐️ Classlist top tip: Download our Starting Secondary School guide!
How to settle into a new international school
Moving countries is a momentous upheaval, and it’s one our Classlist founders are well versed in! Susan Burton and Clare Wright, co-founders of Classlist, lived overseas with young children and navigated the challenges of finding a good school and integrating with the community.
While Susan was shocked to find armed guards at the doors to her children’s primary school in Bangalore, Clare’s family learned how to integrate into a non-English speaking international school in Rio. International school communities can be transient, so for many, the experience is intense. Quick decisions have to be made about everything from dentists to schools and on the basis of very little information. But very quickly, newcomers become experts, happy to share their knowledge with the next new family to join. At the weekend, you’re packing in as much as you can and giving back to your host country whenever possible. So finding like-minded, interesting people to connect with is absolutely key to making your experience overseas rewarding and fun.
Classlist was founded to help parents like you
In fact, Susan and Clare first met when they had both just moved back to England and their children were starting at an independent primary school in Oxford. They found it hard to meet new people because the school couldn’t share parent contact details due to GDPR legislation. And so, the germ of the idea behind Classlist was born!
Why moving to an international school isn't as scary as you think
The brilliant thing about the best international schools is that they work really hard to bring their families into the community. Newcomers are keen to get involved because they are highly motivated to make new friends for themselves and their children.
Of the thousands of schools using Classlist, international schools really shine as having thriving parent communities. We’ve run the data and found that international schools consistently have more events, more volunteers and more people sharing their wisdom online. We look at the ‘contributor consumer ratio’ to determine this. It shows that where at the average school, 10-15% of parents are actively involved in their online community, in international schools it’s a stonking 32%!
If you’re moving overseas and you’re worried about settling in to a new international school, check if they’re using Classlist. It could just be the answer to your prayers (and your many questions!)
⭐️ Classlist top tip: Find nationality and interest groups in your Classlist community. It’s the easiest way to make new friends and activities that will make your time there enjoyable.
Hear how Classlist brought the whole school community together at Rygaard’s International School in Denmark.
What gifts do teachers really want?
It’s the most wonderful time of the year … but Christmas also brings with it an enormous number of decisions to be made. Do you contribute to the class purse for a joint present for your child’s favourite teacher, or do you go it alone with a special present that’s just for you.
Whatever you decide at Christmas or for the end of year present for your teacher, you can’t go too far wrong with a box of chocolates or a gift voucher for a well-known online retailer. But don’t miss your chance to curry favour with your child’s teachers! According to a survey by The Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), 93% of 1000 teachers polled had received gifts!
The most popular teacher gifts according to the ATL were wine, a box of chocolates or a plant. But top of all teacher’s wishlists is a personally written letter from their pupils. We know some teachers that have kept every single handwritten note they’ve been given over the years. It shows real thought - and the quality of the writing will hopefully show how much progress your child has made under their care!
Here’s what teachers say they want to get at Christmas or the end of term
- Amazon vouchers
- Canvas bags
- Tea, coffee, chocolate and wine
Presents that teachers say they do not want to receive
- Homemade cakes, biscuits or treats (would you?)
- Anything embarrassingly expensive
- Mugs that say “Best Teacher Ever”!
⭐️ Classlist top tip: use the event feature to sell ‘tickets’ to raise money for your teacher’s present. Each ticket is a contribution to the pot.
What to do if your child is bullied at school
We defer to the experts here - the Anti-Bullying Alliance and we’re fully in support of their mission. Their annual awareness week is held in November and in 2021 the theme is 'One kind word'. Just offering one word of support or encouragement can break the cycle of bullying. It can turn a difficult day into a much happier one for children and parents alike.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance says: "Kindness is more important today than it has ever been. The isolation of the last year has underlined how little acts of consideration can break down barriers and brighten the lives of the people around us."
Click for help about how to cope with bullies at school or hear from Jimi Slattery, CEO of CompassionMatters talking about the work they are doing in schools on kindness. The end result is children who are better prepared to make positive changes to themselves, be more compassionate - and happier.
Classlist exists to be the kinder social network for school parents, where there are no cliques and no false claims. Our incredible army of volunteer moderators ensure this is true at every Classlist school in the world.
⭐️ Classlist top tip: Connect with other parents and you’ll find it can break down barriers in the classroom. We would never advise tackling another parent about behaviour. But inviting a small group of children over to play can stop a small problem becoming much larger. Go one step further and set up a mums’ night out! Always ask your teacher for help before approaching the parent personally.
Here’s great advice on how to talk to children about their emotions from the BBC.
How to cope with the summer holidays
The summer holidays are long. Oh so long and expensive. Finding great quality childcare to keep your little ones amused and safe while you work is not cheap. Since the pandemic, finding any kind of childcare has been a challenge, with holiday clubs nervous of setting up in case of further disruption - and prohibitively expensive if they do take the plunge.
The TUC and Anna Whitehouse (aka Mother Pukka) released a survey that showed that two thirds of parents didn’t have enough childcare to cope with the summer holiday in 2021. The costs are exorbitant too, meaning many women work for no reward throughout the summer to be able to hang on to the jobs.
Your guide to making the summer holidays bearable
We know that every situation is different, that every family’s needs are different according to ages, abilities and the individual pressures of your jobs or caring responsibility to other family members. So with this firmly in mind, we’ve created a go-to list of things to do that will make your long summer holiday just a little bit more manageable.
Number one on our to-do list is: nothing. That’s right. Do nothing in week one. Let the children be bored and they will rediscover their ability to be creative and think up games and activities for themselves. If you can, ban screens until later in the day. An early morning TV binge only leads to grumbles and impatience. You could set out a few activities around the flat or house - Lego here, Hamma beads there. See what happens.
When you get a break from work, head outside as much as possible. Time in the woods, by the river or sea, or even walking around town will fuel their imaginations. Before you set out, suggest an activity that relates to what they’ve just experienced. Perhaps to paint a picture or write a story about where they have just been.
The library is also a firm favourite - not least because they actually have to stop talking for a little while! Likewise, a trip to your local, free museum will always offer an opportunity for an add-on activity that will fill time when you need to head back to your desk.
⭐️ Classlist top tip: If your class uses Classlist, set up an event for other families from school. It’s a quick and easy way of finding people to spend time with when you don’t know who is and isn’t away. Your event could be simply meeting in the park or a pottery cafe. You may enjoy getting to know someone better from your class who you haven’t spent time with before. If there are new families joining the school who you see in your class on Classlist over the summer, inviting them along to something will be really appreciated, as they would love to get to know other families before term starts.
The teenage years: mobile phones, drugs, exams, parties, and sleepovers
We know that overcaring parents can damage their child. But when do you stop helicopter parenting and help them move into independence? Read on for practical advice that will help you both make that transition.
Mobile phone guidelines for teenagers
The age of 11 is the most common time to get a mobile phone and it’s also the time when children typically start using social media (whatever the stated rules on social media channels). It’s a good idea to set your own rules of use upfront.
Consider making a mobile phone pact with your child including:
- to stick to agreed daily time limits
- to put the phone away on silent when asked
- to never provide any personal information (address, school, phone number) online
- to share the passwords to all their accounts with you
- to never share these with anyone else
- to not say anything rude or mean online
- to let you know if they receive messages or see content that makes them feel uncomfortable
Download Starting Secondary School guide
This short guide is designed to help parents make the first few weeks of secondary school easier for their children and give you a heads up on the issues coming your way - from mobile phones to homework.
They go from being one of the oldest children in school to one of the youngest. And then there’s the unfamiliar timetable, buildings and people to get used to.
A survey of 2,750 11- to 18-year-olds found one in 10 admitted checking their mobile phones for notifications at least 10 times a night. The poll was carried out by Digital Awareness UK and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference. The organisations warn night-time usage of mobiles means pupils are coming to school tired and unable to concentrate. They recommend having a “digital detox” and putting mobile devices away for 90 minutes before lights-out or keeping them out of the bedroom.
⭐️ Classlist top tip: We always suggest that children (and adults!) are encouraged to THINK before they post.
Our social media guidelines for tweenagers and teenagers are;
Is it True - Helpful - Inspiring - Necessary - Kind? THINK!
How to cope with teenage parties, drugs, exams and sleepovers
This is when the fear factor really comes to the fore - not knowing what your young teen is up to at parties or sleepovers is a huge worry for many parents. We all know that parents are not on the same page in terms of expectations or boundaries. Finding out where exactly they lie is nigh on impossible unless you are able to meet the parent in person.
You can use Classlist to subtly check in on party arrangements, without your teenager finding out. There’s little more embarrassing than your mum phoning up during a party to check you are OK. But if they do something they later regret at a party the impact on them at school could be massive. It’s not just a human problem for them to deal with, but could also have a detrimental effect on their results later down the line. There’s no point leaving it to chance.
We’ve asked the experts at Teenagers Translated to enlighten us on the effect of drugs or gaming on rapidly developing teenage brains and the results are stark. They say that the changing brain chemistry doesn’t just create lethargy - it also increases the chance of risk-taking with no consequences. As the teenage brain shapes according to the experiences it encounters, exposure to drugs or gambling before the age of 16 can lead to teenage brains becoming wired toward addictive pathways.
You'll all feel the stress of exam season, so it's worth keeping an eye on how your teenager is coping. Are they eating and sleeping? Are you staying calm yourself? Parenting guru David Cope writes in Kids Pick Up on Everything: How Parental Stress is Toxic to Kids that children absorb stress from their parents, so remaining calm and keeping things into perspective, along with the coping mechanisms above, also apply to parents. Here's more on how to cope with exam stress.
⭐️ Classlist top tip: Track down the parents of your teenager’s new friends on Classlist. They’ll probably welcome the introduction. It’s very likely they are fearing the worst about their child’s new friends too.
There’s so much you can do to help your child have a brilliant time at school. You can help them thrive educationally, socially and physically. Go out there and harness the power of the community around you! We’re thrilled to have you here. Please use and share our resources to make your parenting years easier and more fun.
Download the free Classlist app to create a micro-community that’s just for your school. It’s intuitive, inclusive and easy to use.
To see how Classlist can transform your school community, book a PTA demo.