Dropping off a child at school is easy isn’t it? You roll up, send them on their merry way, and head off home or to work to enjoy a few hours of childfree sanity. Well, that’s the theory, anyway. However, the reality can be a bit more complicated, thanks to school gate etiquette and politics.
If you are a seasoned school run parent then you will already be aware of some of the issues that can arise. However, if you are new this term and still finding your feet, you might have a few things to learn. There is a whole set of secret rules regarding school drop offs, and unfortunately, none of them are written down and they vary from school to school. They are not the school rules, such as arriving at 8.45am, waiting behind the barrier at pick up time, etc. These secret rules are those of the school run parents – affectionately known in some quarters as the ‘playground mafia’.
Navigating the social intricacies of the school gates can be a bit like navigating through school itself. There are the fashionable parents, who somehow, despite having three children under 10, manage to turn up each morning as if they have walked straight off the catwalk in Milan. There are the gym Mums, who turn up in yoga leggings and lycra tops, making the rest of us hug our flabby tummies in shame. There are the competitive Mums who loudly proclaim how their little darling has advanced three reading levels in two days and can already do complicated mathematical equations. Then there are the pyjama Mums, who frankly couldn’t give a damn about what they look like in their onesie, because in addition to their five year old, they have three children under three and it’s a miracle if they make it out of the house any time before 11am.
Knowing how to approach other parents, and working out which parents could become your allies is difficult, but important. Having a good network of friends with children at school is vital should an emergency arise and you need someone to help with afterschool care. You are also more likely to be kept in the loop about important events and issues if you are in contact with the other parents – in addition to being informed on the juicy gossip about the relationship between the heads of Geography and History.
So, if you are struggling to negotiate the politics of the school gate, then the following do’s and don’ts may help.
1. First Impressions
Do greet other Mums with a friendly smile. Progress to a hello once you start to recognise faces.
Don’t pre-stalk each parent on Facebook and then use that information to outline to them where and when you have seen them.
2. Knowledge Sharing
Do strike up a conversation by asking a fellow parent if they know about the school’s swim / drama / cooking club.
Don’t strike up a conversation by asking a fellow parent if they know about any good strip clubs in the area.
Do be yourself, and dress as you would normally when popping out, bearing in mind that first impressions do count.
Don’t spend the equivalent of a small country’s GDP on designer clothing for the occasion (unless your child is attending Eton – then it’s expected – that is, if you butler is unable to drop them off for you). At the other end of the scale, wearing pyjamas will give you a reputation for being a bit of a slob, even if they are warm and comfy.
4. School Run Dads
Do talk to the Dads at the school gate. They are often ignored and may welcome the company.
Don’t flirt with the Dads at the school gate. This will only end badly.
5. Parent Teacher Associations
Do suss out the PTA in advance before you decide whether or not you want to join. Some are really friendly groups that are good for making friends. Others are a bastion of dictators lacking their own small developing countries to fulfil their Machiavellian ambitions.
Don’t perform a coup of the PTA and insist on all events involving a ballroom dancing theme. Yes, we know Strictly is very popular these days but it’s not for everybody and certainly not all year round.
6. Lost Property
Do send an email or use WhatsApp to politely request that your fellow parents search for your child’s lost jumper.
Don’t install your own security check at the school gate and insist on bag searches for every pupil.
7. Praising Children
Do make positive comments about other children, even if they are covered in snot. Phrases such as “she is really clear at communicating” or “he is always so smart” will endear you to other parents.
Don’t ask loudly why little Timmy hasn’t moved up a reading level when your Jack has. Avoid one-upmanship and just smile when another parent tries the same with you.
8. School Cliques
Do rise above cliquey behaviour. Sadly, there will always be those who seek to undermine others, often to serve their own lack of self-worth. Respond positively and politely.
Don’t report them for bullying to the head teacher. The bullying policy is there for the children, not the parents.
9. Dealing With Rejection
Do remember that not every Mum wants to make friends. Many have busy lives and simply don’t have the time to invest in new friendships.
Don’t fall into a deep despair when you are rejected by your Mum-crush. Avoid texting them repeatedly only to be disappointed when they don’t reply.
10. And Finally
Do remember that you and all the other parents are primarily there to pick up children. That is the only reason you are there. Therefore, any friends you do make are a bonus.
Don’t forget to actually pick up your children. Authorities tend to frown on that sort of behaviour.