Photo Credit @ Lauren Denise Photography
BE CONSISTENT | Being consistent as a parent is essential for any toddler to thrive, but it is especially important through a big transition period like beginning school. For us, being consistent came in many ways. We have a consistent bedtime routine and time which helps ensure babycakes is well rested and prepared for school the next day. I also feel it is important (and has been helpful) for my daughter to have consistent drop-off and pick-up awareness. She knows I will take her to school and walk her into her class every day. It is also important for me, as the parent, to be prompt in picking her up to reassure her I will be there (and on time). Being consistent as a parent is another way to establish, ensure, grow, and maintain a healthy level of trust being parent and child.
DON’T SNEAK AWAY | I can see where it would be more than tempting at times to dart out of the room, especially if your child appears to be doing okay. Personally, I know my daughter would be more afraid if I would just Harry Houdini out of her classroom. Fran Walfish, Psy.D., a child and family psychotherapist and author, says:
“Moms should never be ripped away abruptly from their child. It can take up to ten weeks for a child to fully be ready to be left at school without their mother. The best way to handle the separation process is to begin by mommy going to school with their child and sitting next to them. She should not interact with her in games and toys, but rather be there as a safety net.”
Instead, Walfish suggests developing a good-bye ritual. This could be anything special between you and your child. Walfish goes on to say that once you’ve said your goodbyes, it is best to leave quickly so your child doesn’t become “preoccupied with your presence.” My daughter and I have a special hug. She asks for it when shes hurt, scared, doesn’t feel well, or just needs some extra TLC. After taking her into her classroom and helping her find her seat, I pointed out she had a puzzle waiting for her at her desk, we did our special hug and she began the puzzle set out for her. I took that as my cue to leave.
PREPARE A COMFORT OBJECT | My daughter has numerous comfort objects, but the blankie is an obvious go-to. She has many blankies and isn’t overly picky on which ones she is using at any particular point in time. But it was important for her to have blankie with at school. We had a little talk before we went to school. I explained it would be best for blankie to take a naptime in her backpack during pre-school so blankie would be ready to snuggle after school, but if she really needed blankie it would be right there in her backpack. So, she held her blankie (tight as ever) walking into school, we found her locker, and she put blankie “nite-nites” herself in her backpack (so she herself was letting blankie go and knew where blankie was) before walking into her classroom. Another object I found helpful on the first-day-of-school-transition was an object of mine. On a daily basis I wear glasses (I’m blind as a bat). I have a “good” pair of glasses and a “bad” pair of old glasses. On the first day of school, I intentionally wore my contacts. I put my “bad” pair of glasses in a glasses case and showed her I was putting it in one of the pockets of her backpack. I asked my daughter if she could hang on to my glasses for me and I would get them from her when I picked her up. I did this to give her a little extra reassurance that I would be back to get her when pre-school is over (she knows I need my glasses). It obviously worked to some degree because as soon as she got buckled into her car-seat after her first day she reminded me she had my glasses and she kept them safe for me 🙂
ENCOURAGE EXCITEMENT | My daughter likes to shop. So getting her excited for school was fairly easy to some degree. First, the backpack. OH, what a big deal the backpack was. She was more than insistent that she have an ALL PINK backpack (for anyone that knows my child, this should come as no shock). But finding an all pink backpack is actually harder than one would think. I ordered a Fawn Design mini backpack online, however, she approved the choice through pictures before I placed the order. Babycakes and I went school supplies shopping with the list of items (provided by her school) she was to bring her first day. She was more than excited to follow the list, find the items, place them in the cart, and help with check out. It gave her some independence, and she loves feeling like a big girl. She picked out her outfit for the first day (with some guidance in order to follow the school dress code and weather predictions). And before her first day, we planned a special lunch for when she was done with mommy, papa, and a little friend. My daughter handles transitions better when she is made aware of what’s “next” on the agenda, and a special lunch gave her that security of knowing what was “next,” as well as, something to look forward to.
ATTEND BACK TO SCHOOL NIGHT | Attending a back-to-school night is imperative. Doing so gave my daughter the chance to:
- meet her teacher
- meet some of the other kids in her class
- get acclimated with her room (she found out where her chair, desk, and locker were; as well as, played with some of the classroom toys)
- tour the school
- play on the playground (this helped her see how pre-school would be fun too)
- TEST OUT THE SCHOOL POTTY CHAIRS (this was a must!!)
Furthermore, as a parent, I had the opportunity to discuss some necessary information about my daughter with her teacher prior to the first day to help ensure a smooth transition. Doing all of these things helped my daughter’s comfort level and confidence in this new educational environment. If one is unable to attend a back-to-school-night or school welcome, I would highly recommend calling the school and arranging another time to tour the school and meet the teacher. It will be to everyone’s benefit.
PREPARE FOR SEPARATION | This one was very important for my daughter. Because she has never gone to day-care or been cared for by someone other than me during the day, I knew she would need a gradual transition to someone else’s care. So, prior to the school year beginning, I began to leave my daughter with my parents, or relatives, or Kid’s Club at my gym, or Spirit Sprouts at our church for short periods of time (typically around an hour or two). In doing so, I was intentionally trying to establish healthy separation by reinforcing to my daughter that I would return and she is safe in the care of others.
MY MOMMY TAKE-AWAY | My daughter was fairly reserved in asking questions about school prior to it starting. However, on the few occasions she did ask a question or make a comment, I wanted her to feel heard. I wanted her to know it was okay to ‘feel’ whatever emotion she was feeling with this transition. So, I tried my best to listen, answer whatever question she had, and not rush along to a different subject. I can only hope I did an adequate job in this regard. Reading some books on this transition can often help (suggestion here, here, here, and here).
It’s common for a child to “act out” their worry. These kinds of behaviors can include becoming clingy, withdrawn, and/or aggressive. It’s also common for a child to exhibit regressive behavior. For example, a child who is potty trained may start to have accidents, a child who dresses themselves may need some help, etc. It’s easy to get frustrated by such regressive behaviors, I know I’ve felt frustrated with it. I’ve tried to maintain support and patience through this transition, and it has appeared to help.
Lastly, my daughter (and all children) are very intuitive, she can pick up on any emotions I exude and she acts (and reacts) based on those emotions of mine. So I try not to look or act worried, sad, and/or anxious. Staying upbeat helped reassure my daughter that everything would be okay.