Is your child’s very first day of preschool or kindergarten coming up? You want it to be an exciting and magical moment. First-day jitters are normal for both children and parents. Here’s how to keep them at just jitters.
by Gerald Dlubala
The young child clings to the parent’s thigh as though attached with a sheet of Velcro, with a grasp that would impress an Olympic bodybuilder! Add in the self-doubt and the hidden guilt that the parent may feel, and you have the makings of a traumatic first day of school.
Fear of the unknown creates much of a child’s anxiety in these situations. Entering a new environment filled with unfamiliar people can cause anxiety for children and their parents as well. But parents can overcome the anxiety that accompanies a child’s first-ever day of school, whether it’s preschool or kindergarten, by preparing in advance with their child and the school.
Here are some classic tips for smoothing the path into school, from my own experiences as a father of three, and from the American Medical Association, the Missouri Department of Mental Health, and the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Preparing in the weeks before school starts
● Practice activities. At home, have your child practice some of the more common school activities, such as drawing pictures, painting, or storytelling. Assure her that the activities will be similar in her school. Simply talking with your child about the first day of school can greatly reduce any anxious feelings your child may feel when you leave.
● Visit the school. Visit your child’s classroom at least once before school starts so your child can personally meet her teacher. It’s a rare school these days that doesn’t offer some kind of orientation event, but if yours does not, call the school district office or the school itself to set up a visit.
Familiarize your child with the room, its surroundings, and the locations of various items. Show her that you are comfortable with the environment and confident in the person that you will be leaving her with.
● Take it easy. If your child realizes that you are at ease with the situation, it will go a long way in making her feel at ease as well. If you feel guilty or worried about leaving her at school, your child will sense that. The more calm and assured you are, the more confident your child will be.
Making the transition from home to school
● Bring a bit of home. Ask in advance if it’s possible for the child to bring along some object that reminds him of home, like a favorite toy, photo, or pen. Links with home and family are important in giving the child a sense of security in a new environment.
● Establish a routine. Some separation anxiety is normal and common. Develop a routine to ease the transition into a new environment and make your child feel more comfortable about separation. When you arrive, enter the classroom with your child and involve him in the school’s arrival activities. When you leave, explain to your child where you are going and when you will return to pick him up.
● Stay at ease. Just as you did when you visited your child’s classroom in advance, show him that you are totally at ease with him staying there. Your unspoken actions and body gestures make your child feel more trusting and more comfortable with his new surroundings.
● Respect your child’s feelings. Never leave without saying goodbye with a hug or kiss. Don’t ridicule your child should he begin to cry. You know that he will be okay, but he doesn’t necessarily know that. Don’t get hung up, though, on a long and drawn-out exit. That only makes it more difficult for both of you.
Calming your own fears
The first day of school is a major transition in parenting children, and we parents shouldn’t minimize the importance of easing our own fears as well. We can prepare ourselves for a possible tear-filled good-bye by learning about what our child’s day will be like while we are gone.
● Learn the school’s procedures. Ask your child’s teacher what the procedure is when children are crying for their parents. Make sure a school staff member is ready to help your child with the transfer from your care to the classroom. Make sure you are comfortable with the procedures before you leave the classroom so that you can go about your day without stressing over all the possible scenarios that could occur while you are gone.
● Follow your child’s day in your mind. Find out how your child’s class will be structured throughout the day. You can then have a general idea of what she is doing at any one time during the day, easing your own mind about what types of activities she may be involved in.
Many schools and preschools begin with some sort of free time, social time, or a homeroom period, when teachers and students can talk freely about what they did the day before. This type of relaxed interaction can help ease school anxieties, and make the children more comfortable to start their educational day.
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A lifelong St. Louis resident, Gerald Dlubala has spent the last 15 years writing about topics including health and wellness, education, family matters, and the wonder, humor, and lessons of everyday life.
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