The first day of school is an important milestone in a child’s life – and in the life of the child’s parents as well! Whether this happens when the child is 2 or 3 or older, it marks a definite transition in the youngster’s developmental journey. It is a turning point between the time that the child is educated only by his or her family and the next couple of decades in which he or she will be educated by so many other adults. Gone are the days when the little one was held in the 24/7 warm embrace of home and family; now he or she ventures out daily into a world of activities and people outside of the parents’ jurisdiction. No longer restricted to the social life offered by siblings and/or a carefully selected tiny group of peers, the child is inducted into close contact with other children who are strangers to the family. The first day of school brings a large and enduring change in the child’s universe.
If you want to make this important transition happen as seamlessly as possible, consider the following tips:
Meet the Staff
In a way, teachers and other school personnel are strangers to you – it can be anxiety provoking to leave your child in their care. It helps if you can get to know the school personnel before school begins. Sometimes schools wisely arrange an introductory meeting for both parents and new students. If your child’s new school doesn’t have this practice, however, see if you can set up an appointment with your child’s teacher(s), even if only to meet for a couple of moments and introduce yourself and your child. While you’re in the school building, stop by the principal’s office to say “hello” to whoever happens to be around (including the secretarial staff). Try to meet the school nurse, the traffic guard, and any other staff members that your child will be dealing with. This is a great way to help prepare your child and to also establish important parent-staff relationships. Remember, you may be working with these people towards your child’s development for a long time. If you are reading this at some point AFTER your child’s first day at school, you can still do the school tour and introductions anytime; when you are picking your youngster up one day, just make it a point to introduce yourself to his or her teacher and then search out other staff members and repeat the exercise.
Prepare Your Child
Although your child will undoubtedly be excited about his or her first day at school, he or she may also be scared. Those who have had previous experience in structured day care or playgroup settings will likely find the transition a bit easier, but there’s still a new building, new teacher and new peer group to contend with. Those who’ve been at home with a parent the whole time, may be quite anxious about the separation about to occur.
You can prepare your child by taking him or her to the actual classroom BEFORE the school year starts. In addition, use bibliotherapy (the use of books) to explore the topic of “First Day at School.” There are child-friendly internet resources on this subject as well. Explain what will happen in detail (i.e. “Mommy will drop you off with your teacher and then go shopping. Mommy will come back when she’s finished shopping to pick you up” and take you home for lunch.) It really helps for the child to have an idea of where the parent is and what he or she is doing while the child is at school. Even if the parent isn’t going shopping, it might be easier for the youngster to accept that the parent is occupied somewhere outside the house than to know that the parent is going home without him or her. Also explain to your child that some children in the class may be sad for a few days and some may be fine. However, the sad ones might be crying. Explain that they need to get used to being in school and this can take some days, but soon they will stop crying. Let your child know that it’s hard to hear other kids crying. Reassure him or her that the crying children are safe and will soon stop. Recommend that your child concentrate on doing a puzzle or listening to the teacher carefully, so as not to become upset at the crying of the children.
One way to take the stress of preparing your child for his first day, is to make sure that everything is in order. This includes getting your child’s bags, school supplies and clothes ready as early as the night before. Plan what you want to place in your child’s lunch box ahead too; don’t raid the refrigerator 10 or 15 minutes before. Put gas in the car, or contract with a school bus. Make sure the all your paperwork – enrollment forms, IDs, permit to enter school premises, etc. – are organized. Go to sleep peacefully, knowing that you’re ready for the day.
Consider Bach Flower Remedies
The Bach Flower Remedy walnut is a safe, child-friendly way to help ease transitions and new beginnings. Particularly if your child finds change difficulty, give him or her 2 drops of the remedy in liquid, 4 times a day for the week before school starts. Continue for 2 weeks or more AFTER school begins.
If your child actually panics at separation, consider offering the Bach Remedy called Rescue Remedy. This remedy helps calm states of hysteria and overwhelm. It is available in liquid, spray, candy and gum forms. Give your child some the night before school, the morning of and also just as the child is going into school.
If after a number of weeks of school, your small child still has intense separation anxiety despite these measures, you might decide to postpone school for a few more months or even another year. Alternatively, you might consider arranging a consultation with a child psychologist. The professional can assess your youngster and provide useful interventions.