Saying Goodbye to Family and Hello to School
Your child may be starting childcare at a new provider or starting child care for the first time. You may be preparing your child for their first day of VPK or kindergarten, or even first grade. Starting care can be challenging for you and your child if they have difficulty separating from you. Anything new can be scary for your child, and the fact that you will not be there to help them adjust to their new surroundings may make it scary for you, too.
Transitioning from Home to School
Home–to-school worries regarding transitions may be caused by your child not understanding that she will be safe and have fun in her new environment. She may worry that she has never been away from you and fears being without you. Separation anxiety is common in young children and parents as well.
Before the first day at a new school or with a new teacher, ask the school staff or program director what they do at the beginning of the year to help make the first day go smoothly. Find out the name of your child’s teacher and other adults who may be supervising your child.
Talk to your child about what she can expect. Let her know that you will always come back for her. Remind her that you love her, have never left her, and you will continue to be there as you always have.
A routine is when you complete specific tasks regularly. Children thrive with routines because it creates structure. A child must have the routine and tasks explained and see it modeled by you to follow the routine regularly.
A few weeks before the first day, tell your child that “We’re going to practice getting ready for school!” Make sure to sound excited and happy about it. Choose two shirts, two pairs of pants, and two pairs of socks and set them out. Ask your child, “Would you like this shirt or that one? These pants or those?” Offering your child a choice gives them a sense of control and will make them more cooperative with the getting dressed process.
Establishing cooperation as part of your morning routine will make your life easier. Remember to praise your child for getting dressed and being so cooperative. Praise reinforces the desired behavior and increases your child’s confidence.
Once everyone is dressed, it’s time to grab your bags and go. Get buckled into the car and drive to the school. Park and explain that this is the part where you would typically walk your child to her class and kiss her goodbye.
Keep It Positive
Tell her that she will get to do fun activities, make new friends, and play outside, and at the end of the day, you’ll be there to pick her up. She’ll probably want to get out and play on the playground, but let her know she’ll have to wait until the “big day” when school starts. On the drive home, you might assure your child that you were nervous about your first day, but it turned out well for you.
You may not wish to make the “practice run” to school every day before the big day, but it’s best to practice getting dressed each morning. Make sure that you are up with lunches packed and dressed by the time you will typically need to get out the door.
Encourage family members to show their support. Tell them to ask your child if she is excited about school. Have them remind her that she will get to play and make new friends. Bring up the topic at dinner time, when the family is together and can share their experiences.
What to Do On the First Day of School
When the big day arrives, be sure to get up a little earlier to allow extra time to offer reassurance. Follow the routine you have established, offering choices in clothing and getting dressed. Write a love note to tuck in her lunch. Small children may wish to bring a comfort item such as a stuffed animal or blanket on the first day. Just be sure to check with the care provider or teacher about their policy about this.
When it’s time to leave, remind her again that she will get to play and make new friends. Let her know that the teacher or care provider is there to help her if she needs anything. Remind her that you will be back at the end of the day right on time to get her. Keep your voice and energy upbeat and excited for her!
Dealing With Your Sadness
While you may be excited for your child, sending them to care or school for the first time may bring you sadness. This is only natural. Children pick up on how we’re feeling, and if you let your fear and despair come through, it will only add to your child’s nervousness. Remind yourself that your child’s care provider or teacher works with children because she loves them and has been doing this work for years. Make sure to reach out to friends who you can talk to about how you’re feeling. Friends with children will no doubt identify with you.
This is an exciting time for both you and your child. Your child is gaining independence, and you are acquiring a bit of autonomy. Don’t be afraid to talk to your child’s care provider or teacher about your concerns. She is there to support you. Enjoy this new time in your life. One day you will look back on it as one of your fondest memories.