For the first several years of your child’s life, they’ve probably had the more or less blissful experience of doing nothing and rarely needing to part for long with mom and dad. But that all changes once kindergarten begins, and for many kinds, that makes the prospect of starting school absolutely terrifying.
Parents can have a hard time saying goodbye to children on the first day of school, but few doubt the necessity of sending your child off to school for the first time. But kids, unaware of what they’re going to see and dealing with the prospect of carrying an apparent responsibility on their shoulders for the first time, may take more convincing. Not every parent has an easy time trying to prepare for that first day. Here are some tips you can take with a child who is experiencing anxiety about going to school for the first time.
Visit the school to make it familiar
For a child used to home or daycare, the prospect of going every day to a strange new school can seem terrifying. After all, they’ve never been there - how could you doom them to an apparent eternity at this new, unfamiliar place? By introducing your child to the school grounds ahead of time, you let them become familiar with this new place and get a general understanding of where they will be.
The unknown is terrifying, but the familiar can be reassuring for a child. If you and your child take a tour of the school together, including checking out the grounds, their classroom and any playgrounds on school grounds, you can help create both familiarity and positive associations with the school. That way, when the first day of school comes around and you pull up to school to drop your child off, she knows where she is and where she’s being sent.
Try to take a tour both when the school is empty and when it’s full of kids so they can see other children safely going about their days with their classmates and teachers. This will help prepare your child and show them what their day-to-day life will resemble when they begin.
Adjust your daily schedule in advance
Many aspects of transitioning to becoming a student are difficult, but perhaps one of the most difficult to deal with is adjusting to a new schedule. For many parents who begin bringing their children to school, the day has to start well before 7 a.m. and your child may be unused to such an early start.
You can take steps to prepare your child for school well before the beginning of the school year by starting to wake them up earlier and earlier and sending them to bed earlier. Turn back their daily schedule in 15-minute increments until they’re waking up at 8:15 a.m., then 8 a.m., then 7:45 a.m., all the way until she’s ready to wake up when it’s time to get ready for school.
Slowly adjusting her schedule will make the transition easier, because her life doesn’t appear to be upending completely on the first day. Plus, kids tend to like early mornings, especially if you give them an opportunity to play or watch a little bit of early-morning television.
Expect outbursts and work through them
You can take all the steps you want to prepare your child for the first day of school, but you should still expect emotional outbursts in the weeks before and after she begins. Your child is going to go through an emotional rollercoaster coming up to her first day of school. She may start getting clingy with her toys or with you, lash out at seemingly random times, or try to sleep in your bed multiple nights in a row. These are all signs that she’s struggling to cope with separation anxiety. Be gentle, but be firm about rules and expectations.
On the first day of school it may feel like moving homes when you ask who are my neighbors and how you fit in here. Expect an outburst either when you’re dropping her off or at some point during the day. Don’t be surprised if you pick up a red faced and angry child at the end of the day. You can try to take some steps to diminish her anxiety by offering to give her something of yours to hold during the day (ideally something not too expensive, as she may lose it), or leaving notes of support and love in her lunchbox and backpack for her to find.
The transition to school can feel insurmountable to a child. Once she begins attending on a daily basis, makes friends and realizes she’s safe and cared for, that anxiety should quell and sending her away will get easier.