The first day of school can be a daunting prospect for both children and parents. But fear not – our guide to school gate etiquette will ensure that you breeze through your first encounter with fellow parents.
For many of us one of the perks of growing up is being able to leave playground politics behind. Little did we know that when our own children start school, we would also be stepping right back onto that social rollercoaster.
Even as an adult navigating the social intricacies of the school gates can be an intimidating and perplexing experience. While books such as The Hive by Gill Hornby and Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty depict the school gates as a dysfunctional microcosm where a Queen Bee presides over her minions, luckily for most of us the reality is much less terrifying. However, knowing how to approach other parents and strike up conversations is essential if you want to establish a good network of friends to see you through the first term and beyond.
1. Remember that first impressions count
Greet other parents with a friendly smile and say hello to the ones you recognise from nursery or local playgroups. Big crowds can be intimidating and if you are
shy by nature or have less than pleasant memories of your own school days, it may be tempting to avert your eyes and keep them firmly focused on the ground. However, this can give the impression that you are unfriendly or hostile. Remember that body language accounts for over half of our total communication so how you carry yourself sends a powerful message about your attitude and feelings.
Make an effort to remember people’s names and whose parent they are but if your memory fails you, there is no shame in asking them to remind you.
2. Be inclusive, not exclusive
Do your best to rise above cliquey behaviour and be polite in all your interactions with fellow parents. When your child is young, you are the gateway to their social life and if other parents perceive you as approachable it will pave the way for future playdates. Be open-minded about the type of people you may become friends with – just because you are a working mum, don’t assume that you have nothing in common with the stay at home mums. At the same time, try not to take offence if another parent doesn’t seem interested in striking up a friendship. More often than not, you will find that people who come across as rude are simply shy, busy or stressed.
3. Pay attention to your personal presentation
It may seem obvious but do change out of your pyjamas before dropping your child off at school. Ensuring that your clothes are clean and pressed as well as brushing your hair and teeth before venturing out of the front door shows common courtesy to fellow parents.
However, there is no need to treat the school run as a catwalk so do not feel pressured to turn up in high heels and full makeup, unless this is what you usually wear.
4. Keep conversation neutral
Until you have established fully formed friendships it is useful to approach the school gates as you would any other networking situation and keep conversations to safe topics such as the weather, holidays and, of course, your beloved offspring. If you hit it off with another parent, it is perfectly acceptable to ask if they want to go for a coffee or swap numbers.
The school gates can be a hotbed of gossip and while it may tempting to join in, try to seer clear of badmouthing other parents or spreading rumours. Joining in may seem like a fast route to making friends but gossiping is a destructive habit that can ruin both reputations and relationships.
5. Do not overcommit
Once your child is at school, there will be all sorts of fundraising committees and parent organisations vying for your attention.
Be realistic about how much time you can spare especially if you work full time or have younger children at home. It is better to start small and then build up your involvement than saying yes to everything only to let people down when you become overwhelmed by it all. If you are accosted by a clipboard-wielding mum asking what role you would like to fill at the upcoming Christmas fair have a response prepared.
Master the art of saying no politely and gracefully and, if you do decide to get involved, be clear about the time commitment expected so there are no misunderstandings on either side.