Back-to-school time can bring up feelings big and small for everyone involved – not just kids. Parents often struggle this time of year with any number of concerns that come up during this big transition. As a school counselor and teacher, and parents ourselves, we know there’s no shortage of emotions felt as a new school year approaches. The following are some common themes, as well as some suggestions for where to start to cope with worries and experiences:
I’m worried about sending my child to kindergarten for the first time.
Big feelings about sending your child to kindergarten is such a common parent experience. Your baby is growing up! Right? We can’t tell you how many parents we would see on the first day of school dropping off their kid at kindergarten, smiling and blowing kisses, then promptly followed by a cry session in their car. It can be quite an emotional time, but we are here to tell you that these feelings are normal. When we see our children growing up it’s common to have a mix of pride, joy, sadness, grief, and even fear. Our little ones don’t need us as much as they used to, but it’s pretty awesome to see them grow up just as they are meant to. Here are a few tips for coping with the first day of Kindergarten, for both your child, and you!
- Get to know the teacher: It becomes a lot easier to drop your child off somewhere when you feel connected to their environment and the people in it. You can facilitate this home-to-school connection by reaching out to the teacher early on and making a connection. Let them know if there is any additional information they may need to know about your kindergartner.
- Day #1 drop-off plan: We highly recommend you have a plan on how to say goodbye that first day. Do not linger. Children can quickly pick up on a parent’s emotions and nerves, and it can make the first day-of-kindergarten drop off quite challenging and stressful for all involved. Make a plan for how you will say goodbye. Will you have a hug? A special handshake? Sloth’s First Day of School is a great book to read to offer children ideas for how to set a positive routine that first day.
- Plan for Support: You might need more support that first day than you realize. If you can, plan to meet up with another parent or call a friend after the first day of school drop off. It might feel nice to have a place to process the feelings you are having. Whether you meet up with someone or not, take time to reflect on what you’re feeling and why. If you are feeling grief–what do you feel you have lost? If you are feeling fear – what beliefs or thoughts are those feelings linked to? Gaining insight into our feelings can help us show up in the best ways for ourselves and for others.
- Celebrate it for yourself: Congratulations! You have a kindergartner. Yes, this is a big deal for your child – but it’s also a big deal for you. You’ve made it to this huge milestone, so what can you do to celebrate? Treat yourself to a coffee? Have a nice dinner that night? What would help mark this important parenting moment?
I’m worried about separation anxiety for my child.
Some children struggle with separating from their parents more than others. Separation anxiety can be a normal experience for kindergartners and preschoolers, but there are some strategies that can help soothe those nerves and help kids transition with more ease and confidence.
- Set up a positive daily routine: When children are nervous about separating from their parents it can be helpful to offer reminders that you will return. Visual schedules – schedules that have pictures and words – are great tools to help children know what to expect. Post one in a place they can access and remind them that you will return to pick them up at the end of the day. We recommend that every family have a routine posted to support routines and build confidence.
- Try a tool for connection: Children are concrete thinkers, that means they struggle with understanding and processing abstract ideas. ‘Connection’ and ‘love’ are both very abstract concepts. If they can’t see it, it’s hard to understand. To remember they are still connected to you even when you are apart, having a visual token can help. Try something like our Connection Hearts from our Building Connections collection. Putting a note in your child’s lunch box can also be a concrete connection tool. Or a special sticker on their water bottle.With teacher permission, children may be able to stick a small Connection Heart or note in their backpack to have that reassuring reminder that they are always connected to the ones they love even when you are apart.
- Connect with your child’s teacher: Talking with your child’s teacher can not only soothe your own nerves, but can help your child’s teacher better understand how to offer support. Preschool and kindergarten teachers are especially well versed in supporting children with separation anxiety.
I’m worried about my child’s safety at school.
The fear about our children's safety at school is real. We are not going to deny that there are some very real concerns about safety for children at school that our society needs to address on a much larger scale, but what can you do right now as a parent? Here are a few ideas.
- Make a safety plan: Planning can’t fix everything, but it can sometimes help. Take each individual safety concern and make a plan for it. Whether you are concerned about natural disasters or bullying, make a plan with the adults in your child’s life. Then, when you are ready, share the child-appropriate information with your child. Be mindful about what to share with your child. Children need enough information that they will be able to act on a safety plan if needed –but not as much information that would frighten them or cause undue stress.
- Safety lessons with your child: Talking with your child about all types of safety topics at home can help them learn new skills, and remember who to go to for help when you aren’t around. Even young children around 2 or 3 can begin learning about topics of safety. We don’t recommend talking about these all at once – try spreading some of these conversations out over time to discuss some of the following when you feel your child is ready: natural disaster planning, personal safety, body boundaries, coping with hurt feelings, addressing discrimination, lockdown procedures, bus safety, traffic safety, “tricky” people (unsafe people) and gun safety.
- Connect with your child’s teacher: Children will be learning new safety plans at school as well. Chatting with your child’s teacher about those and coming up with ways to support the learning at home can be helpful. We believe that strengthening the home-to-school connection is always a great way to support children in getting the support they need.
I’m worried about adjusting to new fall routines.
Yes, we get it. Getting back into school and fall routines can be challenging. You might be trying to balance the children’s morning routines with getting yourself ready for work. Perhaps you have multiple kids all heading to different locations. After school sports. Transitions to childcare. You name it, these fall days can be busy! Here are our recommendations for making it as easy as possible:
- Practice ahead of time: This tip might be obvious but it is worth mentioning. If your kids have been sleeping-in all summer, DO NOT WAIT until the first day of school to wake them up early. Start your new routine with sleep schedules and wake-up times at least a week early. This helps you all adjust to the new routine with time to practice and adjust.
- Give your kids responsibilities: Parents often fall into the trap of doing it all themselves. But you don’t have to. Most kids are very capable of doing some things on their own. Even just being in charge of checking their daily schedule can start at a young age. Perhaps your child is ready to pour their own bowl of cereal or pick out their own clothes? As much as you can, let your child practice new responsibilities and get some of those tasks off your own plate. We promise it’s worth it in the long run!
- Positive Reinforcement! Going back to school can be tough, so why not celebrate those wins? Whether you can celebrate getting your kids to school on time, or patting yourself on the back for not losing your temper, give yourself some positive reinforcement for hitting your back-to-school goals.
I’m worried about my child making friends at school this year.
We all want the best for our children, and most of us remember how important making friends becomes as kids go out and explore the world, so how can we help them with this important developmental task? Try some of the following ideas.
- Identify your own feelings: If you struggled with friendships when you were a child, you might be worried that your child will struggle too. It's fine to use our own experiences to inform our parenting –but if we aren’t aware of how our children’s experiences differ from our own –we risk projecting our own fears and worries onto them, which can cause its own problems. Try noticing what are your fears, and what is actually happening with your child. If you are having your own fears, try to explore ways to cope with those worries in healthy ways.
- Practice Social Skills: Some children really struggle with social skills. There is a lot involved in having friends. Peer relationships involve skills like solving conflicts, coping with hurt feelings, communicating with peers, sharing, taking turns etc. These skills can take some time to develop. Reading books about friendship and social skills can help promote learning and skill building. Playing with your child can be another way to practice valuable social skills.
- Communicate with the teacher: If you are concerned your child is being bullied or that your child is struggling with peer conflict, reaching out to your child’s teacher can be a huge help. Teachers may not be aware of dynamics between children if they are happening on the playground or when away from the classroom. Or on the other hand, they may have insight to share with you around what your child might be struggling with at school. Building this home-to-school connection is key to supporting children when they are struggling.
- Talk with your child: One of the greatest protective factors for children is having a safe adult to talk to when they need it. Children are more likely to talk to their parents about things that are bothering them when their parents don’t judge or offer solutions too quickly. Try offering open-ended, yet specific, prompts to help your child begin to share, i.e.; “Tell me what you did at recess today?” Then, try really honing your listening skills. Reflect back what you hear them saying and how they felt. If they share a challenge that occurs, try asking them if you could solve the problem together.
The start of the school year can, indeed, add some stressors into our lives, but there are good things about it too. As our kids join new communities, our communities grow too. Your kids might meet new friends, and you may meet new parents and teachers that will be part of your lives moving forward. We love the new energy this time of year can bring. We hope these tips are helpful. If you are looking for more support and community through this time of transition, we invite you to join our Facebook social group.