Preparing for Primary 1: Mentally and Emotionally

Preparing for Primary 1 is a huge process. In my previous posts, I talked about buying the items necessary for Primary 1, teaching the child practical skills like counting money, and preparing the child for the social scene in school.

Now, here comes the heavyweight of Primary 1 (“P1”) preparation — preparing your child mentally and emotionally. Transitions can be hard on adults, more so for young children who do not have as many skills and experience. Jump to the relevant section for further tips:

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The fear of the unknown.

Like adults, most children experience fear and anxiety when there is a lack of information about what’s ahead. Hence, tell your what to expect in a Primary school and how it is different from her current preschool. Knowing what’s going to happen helps them (and us) to be less anxious. This minimises their fear and anxiety and empowers them to face the future with more confidence.

Here are some ways to prepare your child mentally:

  • Have conversations
  • Share stories and photos
  • Talk about the differences between schools (preschool, primary school and student care)
  • Developing routines

Conversation Starters

Having conversations with children about primary school can ease their anxieties. Ask your child about what she* thinks primary school will be like:

  • What do you think the first day of primary school would be like?
  • What do you think happens on a typical day of primary school?
  • What might be different between the current preschool and primary school?

Speak to your child about a month or a few weeks before primary school starts. You can also pretend to play or read books about the first day of school to give her a better idea.

*Because I am writing this article with my daughter in mind, I will use ‘she’ instead of ‘he/she’.

Share Stories and Photos

From the questions above, highlight the differences and share stories and photos:

  • Share stories of older children when they used to be in P1.
    • It can be stories you hear from friends or read off the internet.
    • Better still if you have friends with older children in primary school. Have the older children share with your P1 child what it used to be like for them in P1. Their fun experiences of P1 can excite her. Even sharing anxieties and bloopers helps. Grace felt better after knowing a senior was also nervous when she ordered food from the canteen during the first week as a P1.
  • Show photos of the school building and students from the school’s website and social media accounts. Google Maps (street view) helps too!
  • Go through the school handbook on the rules and find out what activities are usually held in school.
  • Go through a typical P1 timetable with your child to know what happens on a day of primary school. It teaches her to read the timetable and also encourages conversations.

Differences between Schools

Talk with your P1 child about the differences between preschool and primary school.

  • Longer hours
  • Bigger school size
  • Bigger class size with a high teacher-student ratio
  • Expectations of behaviours in class
  • About Student Care

Longer Hours

Compared to a 3 or 4-hour kindergarten, primary school has longer hours. For those in full-day childcare, it’s also longer in a way that the timetable is more packed and intensive now – with fewer breaks and no nap time.

Bigger School Size

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The primary school compound is likely to be much bigger than the preschool and it can be scary. Hence, during P1 orientation, explore the school compound together if the school permits. If you can’t be there physically, ask if the school has a virtual tour. Google Maps (street view) helps too!

Point out important areas such as the toilet, canteen, and office to her. Check out the menus at the canteen together and spot her favourite foods. Take photos of the menus – to know how much pocket money to give and for your child to know the food available when school is about to start.

Take photos and videos of the child as you walk around, perhaps have her do a school tour video. With these photos and the video, let the child “show off” the school to her grandparents or other loved ones. Let the child be proud of her school.

If your child is not good with directions, tell her it’s okay to ask for help from nearby teachers and seniors. Also, remind them to walk and not run around in school to avoid accidents (apparently this is how many milk teeth were lost at lower primary levels).

P.S. Attending the P1 orientation is useful for both the parents and the child!

Bigger Class Size

The class size will balloon quite exponentially to about 30 children. Grace’s kindergarten class was quite big – of about 18 students. Still, the P1 class is almost double that. Vocal kids had to learn to take turns and let others contribute in class. On the other hand, shy kids got to learn to have more courage to contribute when in a bigger class.

Behaviours in school

A higher teacher-to-student ratio means the teacher is not able to pay as much attention to every single child. Hence, students are expected to be more independent and responsible in their learning, making friends and resolving conflicts. They have to learn to listen to instructions and note them down, such as dates for spelling tests and homework.

Students are expected to better manage their impulses and be less fidgety than in the preschools. Thus, more of staying in line and seat. Also, less tolerance for rowdy and noisy behaviours in schools.

About Student Care

If your child is going to an after-school/student care, do let her know what she can expect over there – like lunch and doing homework. You may want your child to join in December to get used to the student care before the primary one starts.

Develop routines

Morning Routine

Having routines creates more predictability for your child. Knowing what she can expect next reduces anxiety. Routines also help to inculcate positive habits such as discipline. It will take some time for you and your child to ease into the routines or even adjust the routines after trying.

Plan routines with your child to get her involved. Better still, let her plan on her own within certain limits, for e.g., work before play. Help your child to develop these routines:

  • Morning Routine: Initially, children who are used to sleeping late at night with late wake-up times might find it tough to adjust to the early mornings. The tired child might require a nap or an earlier bedtime.
  • After-school Routine/Timetable: Work in time for homework, revision, and play.
  • Bedtime Routine: A long school day means it’s important to have sufficient sleep. Schedule early bedtimes so that early wake times will be easier.

After-School Routine

Following an after-school routine can help the child develop focus and understand the concept of time. When you develop this routine with your child, let her know the non-negotiables and she can plan around them. For example, you expect the child to do homework and practise piano first before she can play.

Block out days when the child has enrichment and decide when are the days she can have screen time. Even for primary 1, I will not recommend screen time every day but let their imagination run wild with free play.

Unpacking and packing the bag daily is part of the after-school routine. For the first 3-4 weeks, you might want to guide her at the side. Thereafter, let the child be responsible for the packing. I’ve done up a packing list with my child. She will go through it by herself when she packs the bag. It helps a lot!

Some questions you can prompt her with:

  • Have you removed the lunchbox and water bottle?
  • What’s written in the student handbook?
  • Let’s look at your timetable, what books do you need for tomorrow?
  • Are the pencils sharpened?
Packing List for Primary School Bag

Before school starts

Develop and try out the routines, especially the morning and bedtime, nearer to the first day of school. This will help the child’s body clock adjust and make the transition smoother.

Do not over-packed the last week of the school holidays with events or overseas trips. The child will need time to rest and settle before a big milestone.

For those not taking the school bus, you should do a dry run of going to the school with your child. This gives you and your child a good idea of the travel time, and be familiar with the surroundings and traffic of the route.


Now, it’s the heart work. Children are adaptable but they still need to give them some time to adapt – 1 month, half a year and 1 year. Resistance, meltdowns or sharings (of the bad things) might come after the first week of excitement and novelty dies down. Know that you and your child are not alone.

  • Have conversations with your child about her school and feelings.
  • Create a safe space and be an emotional support.
  • Let the child journal or draw out her feelings to process them.

Conversation Starters

Ask your child about what she feels about primary school:

  • How do you feel about going to primary school?
  • What are you looking forward to in primary school?
  • What are your fears of primary school? How can we cope with them?

Along with these questions, you can share about your school experience for them to relate to. Show her photos of you in uniform or an old report book to stir her interest.

After primary school started:

  • What did you enjoy?
  • What did you not enjoy?
  • What did you learn in school?
  • What food did you have at recess?
  • Any new (event) in class?
  • Anything that made you upset, angry or smile today?
  • When is she the happiest in school?
  • What’s the name of the friend you played with today?
  • How do you feel about school?

It’s good to ask questions, but don’t keep asking questions. After a long day, they might just want some space and quiet time to decompress. Some kids might not want to talk right after school. Give them some time, let them talk to you instead of you probing them too much. My girls usually like to wait until bedtime to share. Or they will share out of the blue at very random moments, like when taking the cup to the sink.

Some kids might have meltdowns right after school or hours later. You can pick up from there to unpack and process the emotional baggage. This after-school restraint collapse comes when the child holds it all together during school and lets it all go in the comfort of the parent. The angel in school breaks down at home.

Be the Emotional Support

Ask: Communicate with your child often. Encourage your child to share their day and express her emotions. Let them know you are always there for them, listening, supporting or just being there. A language of acceptance will make them more likely to discuss their issues in school.

Listen: From these questions, listen to the heart behind the answers. Practise active listening. Validate and not dismiss their feelings. Small things in their world can be a huge deal.

Comfort: Creating a safe space for them to share means no judgment. Acknowledge the child’s feelings and comfort them before correcting or suggesting solutions. On that point, instead of shelling out solutions (I am guilty of that at times), guide the child into solving the problem herself, giving prompts along the way. Sometimes, they might come out with a more innovative solution than us!

Support: Knowing the child’s worries and what went on in school will help you to better identify her issues and problem-solve with her. Guide her to process and manage these emotions and anxieties. Teach calming down skills, like drinking water, taking deep breaths, tapping fingers, squeezing the whole body muscles tight and letting go. Give her a toolbox of skills to manage her emotions. I learned some of these skills from experts – research them to see which fits your child best!

Journal / Draw

Emotions Chart

I carve out a section for this because sometimes children might not how to verbalise out their day, especially for those who like to keep things to themselves.

Encourage your child to journal to know her inner thoughts. More importantly, journaling helps the child to process her thoughts and emotions, works for adults too! It can be therapeutic for your child. But if she doesn’t like to write, drawing is another good way too.

I like to add a tip, I will have the girls paste emoticon stickers that best reflect their emotions for the day on a chart. Once, I asked why she pasted a sad emoticon and she told me about some issues that upset her in school. I wouldn’t have known if I just looked at her bubbly self after school.

Most importantly for us as Christians, we prayed for her and with her. Learning to pray is a good skill set to have! 😉 We pray that she has the wisdom for conflicts, tricky situations, and academics. And she has favour with her peers and teachers. We also let her know that even though we cannot always be there for her (physically), God can. He never leaves her nor forsakes her.

That’s about it! Let me know if you have any other good resources to share with other parents. Before you go, you might want to check out my other posts. Leave your comments or questions below. Love to hear from you. 🙂

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