For parents, kids returning to school for the new school year is a bittersweet time. We’re ready for consistency, structure, free childcare, and by golly…a much-needed break! But also, we are sad to say goodbye to those extra long snuggles in the morning, late afternoons at the pool, the freedom we get from having less rigidity in our evening and morning plans.
For kids, the beginning of the school year can bring excitement, some sadness, most of all, nerves! We, as parents, underestimate the power that change and transition can have over our children. Changes in routine, changes in environment, and changes in in our social surroundings have quite a MAJOR impact on children, young and old. Here below, I’ll list a few tips to help ease this potentially challenging time:
1. Engage in any preparation that is offered….or better yet, initiate some yourself! This recommendation includes contacting your child’s new teacher, offering to have a meet-and-greet so your child can meet his or her new teacher and/or get to visit the new classroom. Get the classroom roster and reach out to parents to have one last summer pool party or early morning play date so children can ease into getting to know their new peers, while also getting to stay close to their safe grown-up.
2. For younger children, talk with your child about what drop-off will look like on the first day of school. If you’d like to play it cool and see what happens the first day, that’s totally okay. Most parents probably will and teachers expect it. But if you sense that your child’s anxiety is increasing during drop-off time over the first few weeks, or even months, do not hesitate to come up with a firm plan of what morning drop off will look like. For example, create a detailed list together: 1. Mommy and Johnny open the gate together 2. Mommy walks Johnny to his classroom 3. Mommy bends down and passes Johnny his lunchbox to put away 4. Mommy gives Johnny a kiss, hug, and high-five (my son’s personal favorite) 5. Mommy leaves 6. If Johnny is feeling shy, nervous or lonely, Johnny will ask his teacher for a hug or a book-reading. Then you and your little one can decorate the drop-off list to your hearts content so that your child will feel ownership and accountability about the plan.
3. Expect BIG feelings the first few weeks, for children young and old. If you can avoid ANY after-school plans and/or big weekends away, I highly recommend it. Children need to completely decompress during these first few weeks of major change and transition. Even if your child appears to be managing well, know that he or she is climbing major emotional mountains all morning and afternoon. Exhausting! Some children will completely unleash it on you when you walk into pick them up, and others will let it seep out like a deflating balloon. Give your child plenty of space to release these emotional backpacks, but of course do feel free to set limits if your child is at risk of hurting himself or someone else, emotionally and/or physically. This will help him or her feel emotionally safe and will help to promote acclimation to the new situation. 4. One major misstep I often see with teachers and parents is assuming that the child is perfectly okay because the child stopped having big feelings when their parents left. Of course, we all hope our children will be able get it together and enjoy their day at school, but just know that children are masters at compartmentalizing thoughts and feelings. Those big emotions are just tucked safely away in an emotional backpack, which children most likely will continue to carry around throughout the day and evening….especially at the beginning of the school year. Again, my advice is to allow lots of space for the child to express their feelings when they are once again in the safety of your presence, but within safe limits, of course (see tip #3).
5. Don’t forget to take it easy on YOU these first few weeks of school! Since you could potentially be the safe harbor for your child’s emotional unleashing, be sure to connect with YOUR safe harbor…do all those extra special things that calibrate your mood, head, and heart.
Good luck to you and yours as you once again engage in this exciting time!!! Soon, we’ll be back to the norm, cooler weather, earlier evenings, and costume planning.