Our 4-year-old son is finally starting preschool this fall. I say “finally” because a lot of people have chimed in that their little ones were in “school” by two or three. We've been lucky to have our little man stay with his grandma everyday but it's time to give him some fun opportunities - and a chance to make friends who aren't grown-ups! Regardless of your circumstances, though, by the time your child is ready for school, you've learned that any transition boils down to a BIG DEAL for your little one. Potty training, scary big kid beds, new siblings - it all brings some big emotions for a child to deal with. So, today I'm sharing some of the tips I've stumbled upon as both a parent researching ways to handle things and as an educator who has seen the best and worst “first day of school” experiences. Oh, and hopefully some of these ideas will help whether your child is three or thirteen!
Discuss the change (but not too much).
It might be devastating to just drop a child off to school with no knowledge of it in advance, but over-discussing may create added nervousness. Watch for cues that it might be time to make the convo brief. If your child clams up or gets fidgety, ask if they're nervous. If so, give them the chance to discuss their concerns - or drop it for later. We all cope in different ways, and kids are no different. Plus, there is often an orientation in advance for students and their parents to meet their teachers and learn routines, which helps in the world of “don't talk to strangers.” Get them used to the new schedule.
If your child already goes to daycare, he or she may be used to the mad dash to get out the door. Now that there are things to remember (backpacks, possibly snacks or lunches, show-and-tell assignments, play clothes), it's even more important to get things organized to keep things in the morning smooth sailing. One way to do this is to start getting your child up closer and closer to their new "normal" time now. Eat breakfast at the new "normal" time, as well. Kids crave structure, so getting the routine set up will help alleviate some of the meltdowns and issues. There's no right or wrong way for your child to respond.
You may have expectations for how your child will handle things, but don't push them - he/she may take your anxieties on as their own. Maybe your child will cling to you on Day 1. Maybe they'll do great for the first week then suddenly show signs of apprehension. Or maybe they handled pre-K fine but kindergarten is a mess. All totally normal. And you'll all get through it. Really. I never saw a crying child head to class after the first couple of weeks and I'm often amazed at how far the worried kids came by the end of the year. Talk about other kids.
One of the neat things about sending your child off is finding out about how they interact with other kids. Well, this can also help your child get through their nerves. Telling your child that all kids (and even teachers!) are nervous about the first day of school will help validate their own emotions. Keep things happy.
Don't just focus on the changes, but the positive things about going to school. It should be fun with new friends to make, things to learn, and fun experiences to have! And just in case the first few days are rocky, be sure to offer joy-filled comforts at home, like an extra book during story time or a date at their favorite restaurant come Friday. Read a book.
There are tons of “first day of school” books that are perfect for getting ready for the big day. Here's a couple of great lists to try, from Scholastic
! Oh, and no worries! Next week I'll be sharing tips for helping moms and dads to cope with this big change. ;-) (So, yeah, I'll essentially be talking to myself. "You can do this, mama...you've got this....") Do any of you parents of older children have some advice to add? It’d be awesome if you could share in the comment section!