BBC News

Playground politics for new parents and how to handle them

By Hannah Richardson
BBC News education and social affairs reporter

image copyrightMonkey Business Images
image captionDon't be fooled by the smiles - the school run takes grit and determination

So your little fledglings have settled into Reception and may even be showing a healthy lack of interest in you now they have made some friends.

But before you sigh in relief that their classmates don't appear to be the psychopaths of tomorrow, you need to realise you've just stepped on the social rollercoaster too.

Elephant traps abound in the perilous world of playground politics - here we give fair warning of some and how to deal with them.

It's not a popularity contest

As you stand spare and alone in the playground, your eyes may be drawn to a gaggle of mothers and a few fathers, all enjoying what seems like the most hilarious joke in the history of jokes.

Naturally, as you are not part of this, it can feel excluding, threatening even.

How have they all made friends so quickly? Why aren't they talking to me? And who is that one with the perfect hair holding court in the middle?

Far from having made life-long soul buddies in the blink of an eye, they are probably parents of children in higher years. Or they may have had children at the same nursery for the past few years.

Don't be deterred; just as you probably tell your children they will make some great friends, so will you. You have no choice!

image copyrightyacobchuk
image captionHaving a coffee after dropping off the kids is a good way to make friends

There's always time for a coffee

Meeting for a coffee after dropping off the children is a great opportunity to get to know people.

Some parents might even be struggling to find things to do now that the last of their gang has finally started school.

Some get-togethers are organised on a termly basis by your class reps, gutsy and assertive parents who have volunteered to be a conduit for information between the class teacher, the school and their fellow parents. And sometimes it's an ad hoc thing.

You may or may not wish to join in, but it certainly helps to have a few friends and going for a cuppa is no bad way to break the ice.

The playground glide

Once you have made some friends and acquaintances, negotiating the playground at "drop-off" and "pick-up" can become an incredibly intense experience.

It's especially acute if you've had a fearsome morning trying to cajole your little angel out of dreamland and on to the mad dash to school.

Once in the gate, there are nods of acknowledgement this way and that, and a glide, with single purpose, over to the mother in charge of the Christmas fair stall rota, only to be intercepted by a very chatty dad whom you don't wish to offend by blanking.

Then your eye may be caught by someone you need to arrange a play date with before your child spontaneously combusts, and, momentarily distracted, you engage in a brief diary chat with them.

The bell goes and the Christmas fair mum has disappeared in an explosion of children's feet.

Your kids may be on their way to class, but you've still got the dodgy slot you cannot manage on the nearly new stall.

image copyrightB-C-Designs
image captionShe may have read Harry Potter before starting school but she's no genius

My door is always open

These words must be uttered by every class teacher in every school in the land. But surprise, surprise, they seldom mean what they say.

Teachers, as we are always reporting, are extremely busy people, and may seem endlessly unavailable and, dare I say, uninterested.

In actual fact they are probably catching up on their marking, preparing the class for the day or trying to get home to their own family.

Each school will have its own way of arranging those little informal chats that are necessary from time to time, so best bet is to check it out with the class rep or the school office.

Your child is probably not a genius

Most schools will hold parent-teacher evenings, or afternoons, when you get to go and hear all about how your precious one is doing in class.

Once you've negotiated an early out from work, the excitement can ride quite high.

The first thing to bear in mind is the teacher is very unlikely to tell you your child is a genius.

And that can be a shock, as we all know how brilliant our children are, but it can take a bit longer for the penny to drop with teacher.

The second thing is that, despite waiting outside the classroom for what may seem like hours, it will be over before you know it.

These meetings are quick and dirty, and despite the teacher's best efforts, you will probably be none the wiser when you leave.

image copyrightDGLimages
image captionPlay dates can feel like an endurance test

One useful rule of thumb is - if they say there is nothing wrong, believe them!

Play date etiquette

"Mum, Mum, Mum - can Tilly come to play?" your child cries as she splutters out of class with the said Tilly in tow.

You have something really important planned - like the entire week's homework - and the idea of having Tilly running round your house for the fourth time in two weeks causing mayhem doesn't really appeal.

Tilly's mum is clearly not keen to have your mucky little scamp and there's a few moments' stand-off when you negotiate who's in for the blitzkrieg.

On this occasion, it seems, it's you - sometimes it's better to take the hit.

But if the occasional bombing raid is turning into the siege of Stalingrad, it may be time to recommend a childminder.

The school social

Before your child has her first hole in her new school jumper, a school social will be advertised in the school newsletter.

There'll be some sort of enticement to get you there to spend money - a fish and chip supper, cheese and wine or maybe a curry and a quiz.

Jolly parents will turn up in couples and cliques and will gulp down wine in plastic cups, while some bad music blares in the background.

There's something very surreal about boozing in the school hall, and that unfortunately can give the alcohol a bit of a bizarre boost. Be warned.

image copyrightGeorge Doyle
image captionA knees-up in the school hall can be a surreal experience

If you find yourself stumbling in front of the head teacher or shaking your tail-feather with the head of Key Stage 1, it might be time to beat a hasty retreat.

You are a cash cow

State education may be free in this country, but being fully part of a school requires a bulging wallet.

There's a fiver here and a fiver there for educational trips, and then there's the endless presents for those teachers and class reps, some of whom you won't even like.

There are some days when you walk into the playground only to find yourself fleeced within a few minutes.

Paying out for raffle tickets, class charity donations or for ingredients for the monthly cake sale all take their toll on the private purse.

Power hungry PTA

If you think the nation's power battles are fought out in the boardrooms of our top companies, try being a fly on the wall in a common-or-garden PTA meeting.

You may be surprised to see your usually slick head teacher savaged by an utterly charming, yet fiercely controlling dominatrix.

The dynamics of the PTA are astounding, as some individuals go all out to prove themselves worthy by gathering thousands of pounds worth of prizes for a fair, while the queens and kings of delegation seem to skate into glory just by barking out a string of orders.

If there's one thing guaranteed, it's that almost everyone is going to get their nose put out of joint.

If you are helping out because you would truly like to see more equipment in the junior playground, fine.

If you are doing it because you want to be held aloft as the saviour of the school, you are going to be disappointed.