Your child is three, four, five! In just a few weeks he will head to nursery, pre-k, or kindergarten. Since starting school for the first time can be scary for little ones, I wrote down some ideas I used to calm separation anxiety and prepare my child for school. I also compiled a list of books to help calm separation anxiety and prepare for starting school.
My plan to get my child into a school going groove really kicked in in mid August, a few weeks before my child headed off to school for the first time.
Start adjusting sleep and meal times: My son’s first year of school was only three hours in the afternoon, which overlapped with his nap time. Since I expected him to miss his scheduled naptime, I started putting him to bed later. When he started going full time from 8:30 am to 3 pm, I adjusted his meal and sleep schedule again.
If your child gets anxious or upset, acknowledge the feeling: A week before Labor Day, my child decided never to go to school. The best advice I got was not to bribe or bargain to mask the distress. I tried to continue to be upbeat and focus on fun, rather than share my own separation anxiety with the child.
Give children control over what they can control: We did our back to school shopping together. A couple of weekends before school, we planned a special shopping trip for school supplies and clothes. He chose the Disney Store and Target. By offering simple choices like picking a lunchbox, backpack or outfit, I was able to get him excited.
Pack a piece of home to school: Although toys are generally not allowed, most schools will allow children to bring his/her favorite toy, lovey or blanket to class for the first few days. Our school requested a family photo for the classroom, which delighted my child when he found it waiting for him in class.
Make sure the child is well rested and fed: A sleepy or hungry child can quickly become a cranky child. When my child did not finish breakfast or his night’s sleep, I told the teacher in the morning.
Practice a good-bye routine and make a swift exit: Like Chester the Raccoon, I practiced a special goodbye wave, hand-shake or high-5. Our school instructed us when dropping off to give a quick kiss and hug and cheerfully do the goodbye routine. Even though it was tempting, I didn’t linger, peek, or come back several times.
Help your child settle in, say when you are coming back: My child’s teacher had mailed him a welcome letter with her photo, which helped him recognize her. I told my child her name and how to say hello. Once he was settling in in his new surroundings, I said when I would come back in terms he would understand (for example, “I will be back after story-time.”)
Do not give in and keep/take your child home: Thankfully, my child loved going to school and did not have a meltdown. However, many other kids in his class did. As parents, we were told to tell our children we expect them to go to school no matter how much they fuss, cry or stamp their feet. When my child missed school (from sickness, bad weather etc.), I remembered not make it an extra fun day. After all, school is fun and it is up to parents to keep reminding our kids that!