It’s August and that means back to school for a whole lot of families! But what if this is your first time sending your baby off to school? Even if they’re only doing half-day preschool and you’ll see them again by lunchtime, it can be a rough transition for both you and your child. Here are some ideas for making the transition easier for both of you.
Start talking to them about school WAY in advance.
If you don’t start mentioning school until a couple of days before their first day, they might not be emotionally prepared for it. Children forget things constantly, so for a few weeks before they go to school, find ways to bring it up in conversation. Talk about the kinds of toys their classroom will have or how nice and fun their teacher will be. Find a book about the first day of school that you can read to them at bedtime. You can even play “school” with them at home and let them be the teacher! Anything you can do to familiarize your child with the idea of school being a good place so that it won’t be such a shock.
If your school doesn’t have a day set up already, find a time to go see their new classroom with them and meet their teacher.
When our 3-year-old started preschool, the Friday before class started they had a little meet and greet for the kids where they could bring their stuffed animals, see the classroom, meet their teachers and have some treats with their classmates. I’m confident that that experience was SERIOUSLY helpful for him because when he finally went to school on the first day it wasn’t a strange building full of people he’s never seen before because he recognized them.
Practice waking up at “school time.”
A lot of children might not be used to waking up at the time that they need to start getting ready for school, or they might just not be used to being woken up by their parent before they’re ready. If that’s the case it might be smart to start practicing waking them up and getting dressed in a timely manner at the right time about a week before school starts.
Don’t linger or sneak out after drop-off.
It will be very tempting to stay with your child when you take them to school; they might be nervous, holding your hand, shy of the other children or even crying–but the longer you stay, the harder it will be for both of you. If necessary make a deal with them, like “We can look at the trains together, but then I have to go,” or “I can read one story with you but then I have to go.” Sneaking out while they’re not looking isn’t a good idea either. Do you remember getting lost in the grocery store as a child, looking around and panicking? Same thing. And you don’t want to color your child’s first day with abandonment issues.
Prepare for changes.
The first thing I noticed about our 3-year-old was that when he came home from his first few days of preschool he would initially be in a great mood and happy to be home, then suddenly his mood would plummet. He’d get cranky and stubborn and act out. This took me aback at the time because it seemed to come from nowhere, but for little people a few hours of excitement like school can be exhausting. Be prepared for a little bit of attitude, and naps after school can be a blessing. Our 3-year-old would come home, get cranky, have lunch, then immediately pass out for his nap and be back to normal when he woke up. Be patient.
Remember that you are a good parent.
It can be very easy to feel guilty when you drop your child off for the first time at a new place without your supervision. You might feel worried that something bad could happen, you might worry that the teachers won’t know your tricks for calming their crying, or any plethora of things that will run through your mind. But you need to remember that their teachers have been well trained, and some have even been parents themselves! Above all, children need to learn to spend time away from their parents, and you are being a very good mom by taking them to school.
Chat with other parents who are first-timers.
At the bus stop, at the meet and greets, at the PTA meetings and even around the neighborhood there are bound to be other parents who are experiencing their children going to school for the first time, and one of the best things you can do for yourself is to connect with those parents. Talking about your feelings is the only way to face them, and if you can talk about those things with a parent who is feeling the same way, there is definitely some calm and comfort to be found.
Put on a brave smile!
Even if you’re feeling anxious and sad about their first day, you don’t want your child to see that on your face. Remember, they’ve never been away from you like this before and it probably a much bigger deal to them than it is to you. If they see you crying while you drop them off they may start to panic and wonder why you’re leaving them somewhere that is making you cry! So hold it in until the bus pulls away or you get back in your car, then you can let the waterworks go.
“I’ll see you after school!”
When you drop off your child, make an effort to say goodbye by saying something open-ended like “See you later!” or something that makes it clear that you will see them after school. It helps reinforce the idea that they won’t be there forever and that they will see you again, and that you won’t just be leaving them there.
Grandparents play a huge roll in the development with kids so if they live close enough let the grandparents perhaps pick the kids up at school. If the grandparents are using their long term care insurance policy and are in some kid of facility such as an assisted care home, let your kids stop by and see them as much as possible. The stories a grandparent can share with your little ones at this age have a huge impact on their development which will give them confidence to strike out on their own on their first day at school! At the end of the day, taking them to school for the first time is going to be emotional for everyone involved. It’s a big step! Both for them as a “big kid” and for you as a woman and mother. But if you take the time to prepare, the first day of school can be enjoyable for everyone.