As August is quickly coming to a close, it’s only a few weeks away before parents and their little ones will be heading off to school for the first day of kindergarten. With this comes many mixed emotions from both parents (usually mommy) and their children such as fear, anxiety, excitement, and elation to name a few.
Prior to school starting, most kids are usually super psyched about the idea of being a “big kid” and heading off to school and mom (or dad) is also pretty excited about watching their baby hit yet another big milestone. However, on the first day of school, this excitement often turns around into the longest most dramatic few minutes of our lives. That one moment of forced separation creates a screaming and terrified child and a sobbing mom (or dad), clinging to each other for dear life!
There is good news! This doesn’t have to be your first kindergarten experience. Keep in mind that your child picks up cues from you. This is why it is so important that you are optimistic, calm and positive when speaking with your child about starting kindergarten and dealing with one of the most exciting time in a family’s life. I’m offering you the following tips to help minimize separation anxiety and make the first day of kindergarten a memorable and pleasant experience:
The Preparation Starts Now
- Talk to your child about what is going to happen at school and discuss the new routine.
- Ask them if they have any questions or concerns about starting school and answer them honestly.
- Allow your child ample opportunity to talk about it and express how they’re feeling.
- Keep any anxiety or negative emotions that you may have about the situation away from the child. Be sure to reassure them and be excited and positive about the new experience.
- Mark the date on a calendar. Count down the days with your child as if you are leading up to a special occasion like a birthday.
- Develop, discuss and practice the before-school routine at least a week before kindergarten starts.
- Be sure to establish a routine that can be consistently maintained in order to build that security and predictability for your child.
- Create a visual chart that shows how the daily routine will unfold, including the time they wake up, eat breakfast, put stuff in their backpack, etc.
- Prepare for the big day together. Make a special day for taking your child to pick out their back pack, lunch bag and anything else they will be using for school.
- Create a special goodbye ritual like a cool handshake or a little thing you will say to each other before you leave them at the kindergarten door.
- Decide on a special keepsake or photo of some kind that they can take with them to school that will comfort them when they miss you.
- PREPARE YOURSELF AS WELL. Practice what you will do and say to your child when you drop them off on their first day. Do whatever it takes to ensure that you are calm, controlled and encouraging on that day.
The Drop Off and Quick Exit
- Take your child to the door where the teacher is waiting, give your brief words of excitement and reassurance, give the hugs and kisses, do the little ritual that was discussed beforehand and LEAVE! Staying or returning because your child is crying will only make things worse. The longer the child is experiencing such upset and panic, the more the memory is being etched into them about how awful the experience is. Although it is difficult as anything to leave your child in tears, it is critical to do so. The kindergarten teachers are professionally and emotionally able to take over.
- If you feel as though you are going to start crying, do your best to not let your child see you do so. Stay calm and positive or it will increase your child’s anxiety level even more.
- Remind them of their special keepsake in their backpack that they can take out when you leave.
- Tell them the exact time you will be there to pick them up after school.
- Be sure you are there to pick up your child exactly when you said you would be.
- Greet them with excitement and let them know how happy you are to see them and hear all about their first day in kindergarten.
- Ensure that you make time to sit down with them and listen while they share their first day experience with you. Ask questions about their day. What was their favourite part? What was their least favourite part? Did anything surprise them? Did anything scare them? Ask about their teacher, etc. What ever you do, DON’T bring up the fear and anxiety they had when you dropped them off. Chances are, they’ve had such a great experience at school that they don’t even remember how upset they were.
Then you celebrate!!!
Kimberly Smith is a Registered Early Childhood Educator with focus on children with special needs. She is the mother of an 8 year old boy with Aspergers, Tourettes Syndrome and ADHD. She currently works with the York Region District School Board as an Assistant to the Developmentally Handicapped, is a presenter with Kiwi Seminars and is actively involved with the York Region Anti Bullying Coalition.
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