Blog author: Dr. Ann Marie Ginsberg
Sending your child to school on the first day of school can be one of the hardest things for you and them. Through the suggestions below, I will review how to manage the anxieties associated with starting school.
After many years in education, I’m sharing the 7 proven strategies that will hopefully make this transition into the childhood school journey become a little easier:
Contact your school and plan a visit.
Meeting your child's teacher and learning about the school routines will help them know where they are going and see a familiar face on the first day. If your child has separation anxiety, ask the teacher how the school can assist on that first day. If you are anxious, ask them if they allow you to peek in the window. It goes without saying that your child's transition is most important; if they see you, they can begin to cry again. I asked a psychologist once, and they said two weeks is a standard transition period. Sometimes after vacation breaks, your child might not want to go back to school. Please send them anyway. Consistency is important. Often, once there, your child will become engaged in their learning environment, and the anxiety or fear will dissipate.
Read books about going to school.
Discuss the emotions and draw attention to the smiles at the end of the story. Going to school can be scary, but your child will learn many things and begin to make friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime. Your local library or Google search can help with title recommendations. Remember the importance is the discussion you are having. Using the book as a tool can help your child uncover questions regarding this new experience. Remember, every child transitions differently. The more you talk about it, the better prepared they will be. Janssen Bradshaw from Readbrightly shared 18 book recommendations you might want to consider.
Establish a routine at home that sets up expectations.
Sometimes the transition to school is more difficult because children are used to do whatever they want, but now at school, they need to follow classroom rules and routines. So, why not give them some chores at home? Setting the table and cleaning up their bedroom can be two of the options. In order to get them in the habit of waking up at the set time to get ready for school, establish a bedtime (no later than 8pm) and start waking them up when needed two weeks prior to the first day. On top of their new and enforced bedtime, you can also include story time, the time spent on brushing their teeth, taking a bath, and whatever else you might do before it's time for them to have sweet dreams. Whatever you decide, keep doing it at the same time and in the same order. Preschoolers thrive with schedules, and you will find it helpful too.
Have your child pick out a new outfit and backpack.
This is a special day, and you want to make a big deal about it. Make sure you remind your child, "Mommy and daddy can't come to this special place, but we will be back or meet you at the bus." You should repeat this daily until your child knows it and feels secure. If your child has separation anxiety and has the option to take the bus, choose the bus over dropping them off. The transition will be more manageable, and the ride will calm their nerves.
Check with your child's school if they allow your child to bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal.
Each school is different, and when you send something to school, it might get lost. Better to keep those prized possessions at home. Remind your child that "school has special toys they use there, and at home, we have special toys just for you." Often, if you talk your child through the experience, it makes them accept it more readily. As adults, we can assimilate and make connections, but this is more difficult for children. By being proactive, you are setting your child up for success.
Remember that separation is a process.
Instead of asking, "What did you do today?" to which many children don't respond because it's too broad, ask them: "What did you eat today? Did you go to the playground? Read a story?" These questions are easier for a young child to respond to. If the school has a newsletter, there might be information regarding the theme or activities that you can ask them about.
Rest Time varies from school to school.
Nap length varies from school to school, and cots might or might not be used. If your child doesn't like to rest, discuss with the teacher options such as reading a book or listening to music. Rest time can be difficult for some children, therefore consulting with the teacher ahead of time can make the transition easier.
School is an ever-changing and exciting experience, but this might not be every day. Like you might have a bad day, so might your child. This is normal, so try not to overreact. Keep in constant communication with the classroom team in a notebook or on a digital platform. In the same way your child learns new things, you will also learn how to partner with your child's school for success.