Why Most Kids Struggle with Starting School

We’ve had some really bad behaviour going on with our youngest daughter Eva these past few weeks. She has been aggressive, demanding and during time out periods, continues to wet the floor or her bed deliberately.

At my wits end with how to deal with these situations, I spoke to the staff at her pre-school, who were incredibly helpful. They did some one to one sessions with her and essentially, discovered that she is anxious about starting school. Eva told them and she has since told me that she is scared about making new friends, which breaks my heart.

Not What We Expected

When our eldest daughter, Alice started school 2 years ago, for several reasons she had a terrible time settling in. Stupidly, I didn’t think we’d have any issues with Eva starting school because:

  1. She’s ultra confident. She doesn’t stop talking to anyone and everyone, she’s a real diva in that she demands and craves attention from anyone she meets. She has absolutely no fear about wearing the strangest outfits or costume in public.

2. She is no stranger to the school she will be going to in September. We go there twice a day to drop Alice off and pick her up again. She is familiar with the setting and knows who her teacher will be.

3. She’s smart and  switched on and I stupidly thought that this wouldn’t phase her.

But despite all this confidence, she’s incredibly sensitive. And it’s apparent now, that she is very anxious. As well as worrying about making new friends, I think she’s also anxious because like most little ones, she has no real concept of time. We have some induction mornings and meetings coming up and she seems to think that she will be starting school imminently. I remind her that she won’t be going until September, after the summer holidays, but I still don’t think she can grasp when that is. She even asked my husband this morning if tomorrow would be her last day at pre-school….

The Anticipation of Change

Just like many adults (myself included!) children don’t like change. They are comfortable when they are in their routine. She knows that change is coming and her recent bad behaviour is her way at expressing her anger and frustration at not knowing how to deal with that.

And I suppose, just like many adults, when we know we have something coming up that is a bit frightening, whether it’s a business meeting, a huge social event with lots of people or even just a trip to the dentist, we often find that it is the build up, the anticipation of the event which can give us more worry and more upset than when we’re there in the thick of it getting on with it.

Most Children Will Have Issues

Having spoken to several other people as well as the pre-school, it seems that most children will have some level of anxiety about the change in starting school and they will deal with it in different ways. My eldest child expressed her anxiety by sitting on the toilet for long periods of time and waking up frequently at night time. Other children will have bad behaviour, others may become clingy or quiet and withdrawn.

I feel awful for not really thinking about this before. It seems we need to give far more credit to all children going through the period of change in the lead up to starting school, after all, if we as adults don’t like dealing with change, it’s obvious that children who are as young as 3 or 4 will definitely have difficulties in dealing with the change plus the enormity of dealing with their feelings and emotions about this change.

Tactics that Are Helping with Eva

The support from the pre-school has been fantastic. They have let her choose a toy which is her responsibility to look after whenever she is at pre-school. This simple act has transformed her into actually wanting to go in and look after her cat rather than clinging howling to my legs.

We have been given a book which together we can write in and draw when she is feeling happy or sad or worried or angry and then we can talk through this with her. Again it could be early days, but she seems very excited to be having her own “special book”.

I’m only hoping that we can survive the 6 weeks’ holidays without too much trauma, anxiety and bad behaviour.


Do you have children starting school this year? Have you noticed any change in behaviour? Have you had problems in the past with your children starting school? I’d love to hear from you.

49 thoughts on “Why Most Kids Struggle with Starting School

    1. That’s great that Megan is so excited, it definitely helps having an older sister already at the school. Hopefully it will go well for both of us come September! X

  1. Awwww bless her. I hope she settles down soon and enjoys school once she starts attending.
    This is behaviour I will be more aware to look out for when the time comes for George to start school. He is starting preschool in september and leaving the private nursery he has attended for the last two years almost.


    1. Thank you. Yep it’s something to bear in mind whenever there is a change in routine. But school especially!

  2. I hope everything goes okay in the end. Change is very distressing when you’re little because you can’t always comprehend the reasons why. #kcacols

    1. When they’re very young like this, it is so much more upsetting for the parents. Kids do adapt, but when they’re a bit older like school age, they are far more aware of change that is coming up and it scares them.

  3. I think the induction days will help her. Once they actually start going and realising that it’s not so scary and there are actually lots of children there they already know they soon start to settle down. You wait…she’ll be an eager beaver before you know it! #KCACOLS

  4. We had lots of problems with school. Like most adopted kids, my children both had a lot of issues with school, boundaries, other kids. Luckily there was a service providing art therapy on site. All kids find change hard. And schools should have practices in place to help kids adapt. It’s such a big move for them, all part of growing up! #KCACOLS

    1. Oh this must have been particularly hard for you. I’m glad the school was equipped to help them. Yes I agree that we underestimate how much of a big deal it is for children and how the change can affect their behaviour.

  5. Oh Cheryl! Poor Eva. Ellie starts this year too and she is only just coming to terms with it. We had to stop mentioning it all together for a while. I would have thought knowing the school would help too. I hope she becomes less anxious. All of that confidence will fair her well for the first few weeks so fingers crossed in the meantime. Thank you for linking to #BigPinkLink

    1. Thanks Kirsty and I did wonder whether your eldest was due to start this year! Yes we had to stop mentioning it for a while too. I do think that once she starts she should be ok, it’s more the build up to it which is causing an issue. Famous last words!! We’ll have to compare notes come September. Xx

  6. I can completely sympathise with this. My son is 6, and has been saying for weeks that he’s worried about going into year 2 at school. He is also outgoing and chatty, but incredibly sensitive. Earlier this year his class went on a trip to techniquest, and for about 2 weeks before he kept complaining about a tummy ache. I took him to the doctors to make sure it wasn’t anything serious as he seemed in so much pain about it. Eventually he told us that it was all because he was so nervous about going on the trip! I don’t really have any advice to offer I’m afraid, but just to say you’re not alone in this. We’re just trying to make sure Rhys knows he can always talk to us if he’s worried about things in the future. x #KCACOLS

    1. Oh bless him! Your son sounds similar to my eldest daughter who worries a lot and hates change. She’s already worried about going into Year 2 in September! I think talking to them and letting them know that we’re here is all we can do. They are a worry aren’t they! X

  7. Good luck with the transition to starting school. It is such a big change for them. My eldest started last September but the transition was much smoother than I expected. I like the idea of having a book to write down or draw things to help with expressing feelings. #coolmumclub

    1. Thank you. I’m hoping that by the time September comes around and she is just getting on with it, things will be better!

    1. It can so easily change! When my eldest started two years ago she was excited but reality hit after a few days that she was going to have to go to school every day and we had issues. I hope your daughter does well come September- we shall definitely have to compare notes! Xx

  8. Oh Cheryl, how heartbreaking. It just goes to show that those small shoulders can wear a whle lot of worry. I know the Mouse has struggled starting pre-school (we’ve even changed it) and could potentially move her again to a different one before reception…maybe that’s not such a good idea after all…
    It sounds as though your pre-school are totally switched on and have some great practical advice. Might even try those tips for The Mouse (ooops nearly wrote her real name ha ha!)
    x MMT
    Thanks for linking to #coolmumclub
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    1. Thanks Sarah. I’m hoping things will improve once she’s actually getting on with going. All this talk about “going to school” is just making her worry! Sorry to hear you’ve had problems with your little one settling into preschool, it does take time. Xx

  9. bless her. I hope she settles in quickly. It’s a massive change and I think sometimes we forget just how much change affects kids. #coolmumclub

  10. Aww, I hope she is reassured and sure she will make friends so quickly. I was so lucky with my two, I think having each other there made a big difference. They were so excited to start school. I have not had one tear at the school gate all year. #KCACOLS

    1. That’s brilliant that you’ve had no issues at all! Fingers crossed we will have a good September.

    1. I’ve heard similar stories about older children who can’t wait to start. Maybe mine have struggled because they are both late summer babies? I hope your eldest does well.

  11. Peachy is only 18 months old so we’re not there yet. When I first started thinking about the day when my little girl will start school, I was somewhat shocked to realize how little they actually are when that happens. Pre-parenthood it just never really occurred to me. I realize they need to go to school and learn from a young age but emotionally they can’t be expected to cope well with such a change. I’m not looking forward to it at all. #KCACOLS

    1. It does depend on the child but my two definitely seem to be scared of change. My eldest started school two years ago and had a lot to deal with in the family during the summer before. We ended up with sleep and emotional issues until January. I hope your little one has a good start in September. X

    1. I think that could well be the case with us too. She will probably settle quickly and I’ll be moping for weeks!

  12. young children are SO sensitive even to the smallest change. I really used to notice this at the end of the Reception year with my class. Every year the behaviour would deteriorate and regress as the children came to terms with the reality that they would soon be moving into year one…the anxiety levels always peaked and for a few weeks it was like going back to the start of reception and doing lots of self esteem, calming and confidence boosting sessions. My little boy Arthur is 2 and is having similar issues at the moment as the end of my pregnancy gets near. He is excited that there will be a new baby but he isnt coping with the changes well at all, especially as i cant play with him in the same way as before and lift him up etc. it doesnt last, but my word it is tough when they have these phases isnt it? #kcacols

    1. It’s so tough at times! I know what you mean about moving up a year at school, my eldest has already started asking questions about Year 2 and she gets very anxious. Good luck with your pregnancy, I bet your little boy will be fine once your baby arrives, it’s always the build up and waiting for an event which is worse!

  13. Aw I love the photo’s of her in her little outfits! I’m sure she’ll be fine once she gets there and you’re right – it’s really hard to get over the concept of time to kids at this age, it’s hilarious how they view it! Good luck for the 6 weeks but a nice little article to assure other parents who are going through the same thing! #kcacols

  14. No school starters this year but last year I was very apprehensive about my eldest starting. Fortunately she settled amazingly well. I have a feeling her brother may be another story next year! Good luck to your daughter! x #KCACOLS

  15. My youngest started 2 years ago, which seems like yesterday and I still feel like he’s just started though he’ll be going into year 2 in September! All three of mine took it differently because they’re all such different characters but you never know quite what to expect. I think I was more upset than all of them though! Good luck to your little one in September x #KCACOLS
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    1. Ahh thanks. I agree I think although she will be nervous, I’ll be more upset than my youngest when she starts in September! X

  16. Leo starts in September and he seems very excited but he has been being very naughty lately and acting out a lot more than usual..I never thought that it might be because he anxious about school. He sounds very similar to your Eva, always wanting attention and super confident so I kind of thought he would just take starting school in his stride. Maybe I need to sit and talk about how he’s feeling more. Good luck for the summer holidays and for September xx #kcacols

    1. Yes it’s probably on his mind Wendy! Probably worth a conversation when he’s calm just to reassure. We will have to compare notes in September. Hope it goes well. Xx

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