1. Looking worried doesn’t help! It’s not that you aren’t worried about your child’s adjustment, but remember that you carefully selected the school already. You felt it was a great place for your child. Well, now’s the time to show that. You don’t want to look worried or say anything that shows you’re worried. The more worried you look, the clingier your child will be.
2. Be enthusiastic but don’t “overdo it”. Children are very intuitive and know when you’re nervous. They feel when you’re playing something up too much too. They know when you’re forcing a smile with a stressed face. If you look stressed, your child will be stressed. If you feel happy and look it, they will be too.
3. Your child’s attitude about school will come from what you do and say. Help your child get off to the right start by listening and understanding.
4. “School” is an abstract concept to a child who has never been there before. When you talk about school in a general way your child really doesn’t know what it’s about. You can talk about the games she’ll play, the new children she’ll meet and all of the new toys that will be in the room to play with. General comments such as “Are you excited about starting school?” really don’t mean too much and sometimes just adds too much “hype”. Don’t overhype school.
5. Don’t make promises about things that you have no control over. When you tell a child that they will have the most fun that they ever had, their day may not match those “imaginary” expectations.
6. Don’t say “There’s nothing to be afraid of,” because they may feel afraid and that’s OK. Many people, no matter what age feel nervous with new situations. Introducing the word “afraid” isn’t the way to go.
7. Never belittle your child’s fears or concerns. Instead, help calm his fears with information. Talking to him about what can be expected should be limited to things that you already know. If you know who is in class with you child and they know that person, give him names. Tell him the name of his teacher. Most schools have a day to visit before school actually starts. At that point you’ll know what to talk about with your child. You’ll know what you saw in the room and the things that they teacher may have told you.
8. You may want to take pictures of the teachers, room and toys on open house day. Teachers are busy, so they may not have time to “pose” but you could take pictures of different areas in the room and some of the new classmates and the toys. Take a picture of the outside of the building. Get them quickly printed and put them into a little album so that you child can feel familiar with his classroom. Just have the album out on the coffee table and let them look at it if they want to. Don’t force the issue.
9. You can also read stories about starting school. Some good ones to try are: “Franklin Goes to School” by Paulette Bourgeois; “Starting School” by Anne Civardi and Stephen Cartwright, and “Starting School” by Janet Ahlberg.
10. If your child is continually saying the same thing over and over, “I don’t want to go to school” stop answering that. The first couple of times that you hear it, it may be an expression of feelings, but be careful, because it can quickly become attention seeking if you always react. If you know you’ve covered all of this and have helped work him through his fears, you could simply tell him that you aren’t going to answer that anymore because you already talked about it. That of course, doesn’t mean to never answer them. If its days later and you hear it again, maybe it’s time to pull out the dolls and do “playing school” and listen to what he says.
11. Be positive. Children take cues from their parents, so be calm and confident that everything will be great. Don’t let her see that you’re nervous or overhear you saying things like “I can’t believe my baby’s going to preschool. I’m so worried. I hope she doesn’t cry.”
12. When you see your child sharing, for example, you can mention that. “I see that you gave Carole a turn with the ball. She really looks happy. Your new friends at school are going to really like it when you share toys with them.” You’re not going to be praising her continually, just occasionally to help your child become aware of some of the situations that will arise in school so that she feels less overwhelmed.
13. Share your own experiences. If your child tells you he’s worried about school or has butterflies in his tummy, you can reassure him with your own stories. “When I started preschool, I was a little worried too. But the next day I couldn’t wait to go back and make even more friends (or play with the new toys, etc.).” (Of course you’re probably not remembering your first day of preschool, but it helps your child feel that you understand)
14. One of the most important things to do on that first day is take your child to the classroom, greet the teacher, have them put away their backpack, etc. Then kiss your child goodbye. Tell them when you’ll see them (after lunch or after nap) and then LEAVE! This is an important part because your child needs you to look confident (even if you aren’t). If you look worried, they’re going to feel that there is something to worry about. Many children cry when their parents leave. Most stop in seconds. If your child clings to you, call the teacher over and they will help “peel” your child from you. Don’t keep talking and reassuring them because it just worries them and upsets them more. Yes, this is difficult. Yes, it’s scary. Yes, you feel horrible and guilty. But this is the right thing to do. If they cry and you keep going back to them and reassuring them, they will cry longer. Their adjustment will take longer. Leave the room with confidence. Cry with the other parents away from your child’s room and out of sight of your child. Don’t go back in the room to check on them. Don’t peek in the windows. The teachers are trained to handle your child and any adjustment issues. They know what they’re doing. If you need reassurance yourself, call the school in an hour and see how they are. Don’t call the classroom in 15 minutes because the teachers are busy greeting parents and helping to ease all of the children into the classroom. If your child is having any difficulty that the teacher can’t handle, they WILL call you.
15. Some children handle the first day of school without a tear and the parents are beaming. Many start the crying the second day. So, if that happens to your child, don’t be upset or surprised. It’s perfectly normal because they figured out what’s going on.
16. Preschool is one of life’s transitional moments. Enjoy the stages of growth with your child and know that you may be feeling the same way when they begin Kindergarten.
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