Mum's at war; If your child is going to school for the first time in September you''ll be getting nervous - and not just about your little one. The school gate can be an intimidating place for parents...
But what isn't always talked about is the nerves of the mums.
All over the country at around 3pm, the same scene will play out: cars pull up, mums get out and walk to the school gates where a gaggle of other mums awaits.
Most are good friends or at least know each other by sight.
But then there's often one voice louder than the others - the mother holding court as she tells all and sundry about her children's swimming lessons, or their extra language classes.
A pushy mum can be an intimidating thing, especially as she lists the academic achievements of her little darlings, their superior musical ability or their athletic prowess.
Forget competition among your children - this is playground wars for adults who should know better.
According to a survey last year done by Netmums, one in 10 mums hate doing the school run with a fifth saying parents are bullied at the school gates.
And almost three-quarters of mothers in the survey said the atmosphere at their school was 'cliquey'.
The survey even listed common school-gate parent 'gangs', or types, such as the stay-athome mums, working mums, yummy mummies and pushy competitive parents all sticking together. It didn't end there - with 45 per cent saying they felt pressured to look fashionable and a fifth saying they felt the need to boast about how well their child was doing academically to keep up.
Natalie Shepherd Gilbert, 32, from Gosport, Hants, is mum to four-year-old Harry. She noticed cliquey mums even at Harry's first playgroup when he was just a few months old - and found it a breeding ground for competitive behaviour.
She says, 'Back then, I saw mums lie that their babies walked earlier than they really did and mums who boasted their babies crawled at three months. I even knew one mum who was potty-training her one-year-old. I saw mums comparing everything about their babies - from how much hair they had to whether they were walking.' This year Natalie's son will start reception year at school. But the cliquey mums have not gone away - in fact, it's getting worse.
Natalie says, 'Now not only do I have to worry about Harry starting school, I also have the added pressure of playground competitive mums. When I went to the first meeting at school I heard all sorts, 'My child can count to 200, my child can do sums, my child can write his name alone, my child can colour in the lines...' It made me worry.' Dr Rachel Andrew, clinical psychologist, says she can understand how some mums find pushy or competitive mums overbearing. But she also says that some cliquey, show-off mums really can't help it.
She says, 'Sometimes this happens in mums who had a career before children and have given it up and then make their children their career and their drive just transfers to that.
'Then there are other mums who don't really want to be in cliques or to boast but do so to fit in. Some mums also don't even realise they're doing it.' She adds, 'Often how you react depends on your own security in yourself as a mum. If you found your own school years difficult then meeting new people will tap into those old anxieties. Often the loudest, most competitive person is actually very insecure and anxious about her own mothering capabilities.
'There can also be low mood there and the need to seek assurance from others.' Natalie agrees that perhaps there is an element of insecurity behind competitive mums' boasting.
She says, 'I don't blow my own trumpet because I don't feel the need to. My son Harry can count to 17 in English and French but he can't colour within the lines and he doesn't really know his colours. He can write words like 'hand' and goes to preschool and has plenty of friends.
'He can dress himself and feed himself and he's happy, which is the most important thing. But hearing some of the other mothers in the clique made me panic even more that he will be behind.
'I was so concerned I even spoke to his nursery teacher about it and she said I had nothing to worry about - he's happy and on track with everything and his understanding is above average.' Rachel reiterates that most pushy mums often harbour an anxiety about their own parenting and use boasting to cover up their own insecurities.
She says, 'Sometimes if you keep this in mind you can feel sympathy for this type of pushy mum rather than feeling left out and you'll take steps to understand them.'
DR RACHEL'S FIVE TIPS TO COPE AT THE SCHOOL GATES
Try to see pushy or cliquey mums as people who may have insecurities and try to befriend them.
Don't avoid the school run as this will only make things worse.
Have some stock phrases initially to make small talk - about other people's children, how old they are, where they live, etc.
Try to approach someone you might not normally approach and see if you have something in common.
If your child is friends with a particular child, invite their parents to the park or to your home - somewhere away from the school gates and other groups - and you may find you have lots in common.
Natalie says Harry is a normal boy
WORDS: Julie Cook