31 Aug 2022

School Gate Etiquette

For some mothers and fathers the school gate ritual is a highlight of the day – a chance to meet and socialise with other parents. For others it is a minefield, littered with needy, pushy, or boastful parents who must be avoided at all costs. Some school gates are dominated by tight cliques of old friends, who are not particularly welcoming to newcomers – hanging around on the periphery, day after day, with nobody to talk to can be very demoralising.

No matter how anxious the school gate routine makes you feel, it’s always a good idea to present yourself as friendly and accessible. Especially when your children are very young, you are the main organiser and mediator of their social lives. If you want your child to enjoy play dates and party invitations, you will definitely need to make yourself acceptable to the other parents, and school gate friendships will be invaluable when there are emergencies and you need someone to pick up your child after school. Above all, remember that your child’s welfare is the main priority.

Picking your child up from school should always be a pleasure, never an ordeal. Follow our suggestions, and you’ll make the school gate a better place:

• Direct the conversation away from your children. Make general remarks (it is safe to assume that you are all reasonably local, so talking about the problems, and advantages, of the neighbourhood, or hot local issues will give you some clear common ground) and head people off school-related topics – an obsession with education can get very monotonous. You might actually have some interesting chats and make some good new friends.

• Never boast about your child’s achievements. Droning on about your child’s advanced reading age to the mother of a dyslexic child who’s struggling to keep up is the height of bad manners. It’s no good excusing yourself by saying you didn’t know; this is an area that’s full of pitfalls, and it’s much more tactful to play your cards close to your chest.

• Never question other parents about how well their child is doing. Even if you’re madly competitive and obsessed by your child’s comparative progress, this is not the way to proceed. Other parents may well respond with boasting or exaggerated modesty – you’d do better to have a quiet word with your child’s teacher.

• Don’t gossip about the shortcomings of certain children to other parents. Yes, you may have suffered at the weekend when the class troublemaker trashed your garden, but this is something you should only discuss with the child in question’s mother or father. They already have enough problems, without becoming aware that they are the subject of playground gossip.

• Don’t gossip about other parents at the school gate. You may think you’re being discreet, but his sort of poison leaks out (possibly with the children as the unwitting conduit), and can cause real distress.

• Take your criticisms of the school directly to your child’s teacher or to the head. Moaning about perceived shortcomings to other parents will just stir up dissatisfaction without actually achieving anything.

• Look out for the lone parents and try and include them. Not everyone finds the casual socialising of the school gate easy. Often whole groups of children have been together since nursery school, and by the time they get to ‘big school’ a playground mafia may already be fully established. Parents who are coming in from outside the clique may find themselves facing a seemingly impenetrable group of old friends. This can be an alienating experience; it may also mean that their child suffers from a lack of invitations.

• Make it clear that you’re always willing to help with pick-ups, after-school visits, school-runs etc. Other people will reciprocate. Volunteering to accompany school trips, helping out at the school fête, or assisting with classroom reading groups are all activities that will seal your reputation as an energetic, positive, committed parent.

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