For young children who have spent most of their lives at home with a parent or caretaker, the first few days of a new school, or even a new school year, can be an anxious and stressful time. To help your child make an easier transition, use the time over the summer and just before school starts to prepare for this big step. The following tips can make this a fun and stress-free time for the entire family.
- Exhibit a positive attitude. Of course, your positive attitude is essential to helping your child realize that attendance at school is a normal part of growing up and that school is a fun place to be.
- Read books about school. In quiet and low-keyed moments, gently talk and read wonderful books such as “The Kissing Hand” and talk about how everyone, animals, too, may be uncertain about school at first. Funny books like “Cornelius P. Mud, Are You Ready for School?” provide humor to lighten first day concerns. Ask your child’s teacher or a librarian for suggestions of other great storybooks.
- Teacher/classroom visit. If possible, be sure to take your child to his/her school to visit their school, classroom, teacher, and playground. See where to hang coats and totes, cubbies, and where books and toys are kept. Consider visiting the school’s playground during weekends or evenings as well.
- Learning and playing. Whether with your child’s teacher or on your own, talk with your child about the kinds of things they will first learn at school and the type of items they will play with at school.
- Get to know classmates. If possible, find out who else will be in the same class as your child and arrange for short play dates or park visits. Building relationships outside of school promotes class friendships and confidence.
- Carry a keepsake to class. Consider giving your child a special item or picture to put in a pocket or wear all day long. Or draw a kiss with marker on the back of a hand, just like the one that Chester Raccoon had.
- Kiss and go. On the actual first day of school, reassure your child that you will see them soon, say “good-bye” with hugs and kisses, and then just leave. Your child may surprise you at how easy it is! (This part is often more difficult for the parents than the children.)
- Always be on time. Being on time to go to school or meeting your child after school provides an important level of security for children. Running late creates stress for children and adults. After school, allow your child to talk about the day’s activities when s/he is ready.
- Attend events. Many schools and parent associations offer welcome events. These are great opportunities to meet other parents, including experienced parents who can answer questions or make recommendations. Often staff members are available to answer questions and offer additional information as well.
- Ask teachers for guidance. Your child’s teacher has lots of experience with students experiencing various separation reactions. Trust them and follow their lead to help both you and your child through this process. For preschoolers, perhaps arriving a little later or departing a little earlier to shorten the day will help. When your child learns that you always do come back and feels more comfortable, you can slowly transition back to a normal day length. You may want to linger a few extra minutes while your child settles in and gets involved with play.
For some children, separation occurs within a short time, while it may take a few weeks or longer for others. Before you know it, though, your child will learn that school is an exciting play to visit and play with friends, and truly enjoy beginning of a lifelong love of learning.