Help your child start school with confidence

Many young children are exposed to a “school” environment from a very young age and may already have adjusted to the routine of getting dropped off early in the day and getting picked up at the end of the day. Often these children continue with the same teacher or caregiver for several years. For these children, the end of August or beginning of September is no different than any other time of year. But for young children just beginning a formal school experience, the first few weeks can be stressful for them as well as for their parents. As a former Kindergarten and Pre-K teacher, I know first-hand how uncomfortable those first few days of school can be. I always expected a number of children to be upset and cry when they watched their parent leave the classroom. I will share with you some of the suggestions I gave to my students’ parents to help make the start of school more comfortable for all of us.

First, discuss the new environment and the upcoming routine with your child before the actual first day of school. Most of us are apprehensive about the unknown, and this is certainly true for children. Often children who are anxious or nervous about starting school begin to relax when they get more information about what school will be like. Try to visit the school before that first day. Although the teachers are fervently working to prepare their classrooms and the school doors may be locked, you and your child will still be able to look around the school grounds and play on the playground. Definitely take your child to any “meet the teacher” opportunity that the school presents. Showing your child how he will travel to school and then home again will also be helpful. If you are driving or walking your child to school, have several practice sessions pretending that it is a school day. If you child will be riding a bus, show him where the bus stop is and then show him how you will be waiting for her return at the end of the school day. Acting out the procedure will likely help reduce some anxiety for your child.

Another simple activity is to share picture books about Kindergarten classrooms or starting school before the actual first day. Reading stories about starting school is an excellent way help your child learn more about the school environment and also spark conversations. For instance, you might ask your child if her feelings match those of the character in the book. Or you can use the illustrations to highlight how your child’s Kindergarten or Pre-K classroom might look or the likely activities she will encounter.

  • First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg:  With a twist at the end that my students always loved, this delightful story highlights the nervous feelings of Sarah Hartwell as she prepares for her first day at a new school.
  • The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn: Chester Raccoon is starting school and is nervous. His understanding mother gives him something special to take with him that works to help him feel loved and calm.
  • Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate:  Get a peek inside a Kindergarten classroom and watch as Miss Bindergarten transforms the box-filled and bare classroom into a bright, charming, and welcoming Kindergarten room.
  • The Berenstain Bears Go to School by Stan and Jan Berenstain:  Once again, the bear cubs are in a situation that will feel very familiar to a young child. This time it is Sister Bear who is having doubts about starting school. Brother Bear’s excitement does little to convince Sister. Mother Bear lovingly reassures Sister and a visit to classroom to meet the teacher is all it takes to get Sister excited about school.
  • Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes by Eric Litwin:  All children who are captivated by the catchy, rhythmic text in the Pete the Cat series will enjoy seeing Pete as he happily goes to school in his new shoes.
  • Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come by Nancy Carlson:  Henry, the mouse, is very excited about starting Kindergarten. Of course, once he arrives, nerves set in. But the dayl ends well as Henry has a wonderful time after all.
  • Maisy Goes to Preschool by Lucy Cousins:  Maisy shares her experience in Preschool in this colorful book with simple text. Children who love Maisy will enjoy hearing about her day in Preschool.

Talking about your own feelings and experiences is another easy way to help your child alleviate any fears she may have. Share the feelings you remember having as a child before your first day of school. Ask your child to share her feelings with you. Let your child know that her feelings are normal and that many children feel the same way. Talk about ways to help manage any anxious feelings; perhaps your child will feel more comfortable having a playdate with children who may be in her class before the first school day. Meeting the teacher and seeing the classroom is often helpful. Hearing an older sibling or family friend talk excitedly about school or sharing happy memories from Kindergarten often helps relieve any anxiety. Allowing your child to share herfeelings helps him feel safe, heard, and understood.

It may also help to prepare clothing the night before to eliminate undue added stress in the morning. Also, allow extra time for the morning routine so that your child will not feel rushed. Talk about your plans for the morning when tucking your child into bed. When children know what to expect, they have an increased sense of security.

Finally, be calm yourself as school gets started. You really can’t know exactly how your child will react those first few days and weeks of school. She may adjust quite quickly - even more quickly than you expected. Or you may be surprised that your child’s anxiety lingers for several days - longer than you hoped. In my experience, even the most fearful child was able to relax and enjoy school in a very short time. Trust that your child will have a wonderful school experience and your child will certainly pick up on your positive attitude. 

I wish you and your child a fabulous school year filled with growth, learning, and laughter!

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