For both you and your child
Even before I had kids, I knew I would be the mom that was going to cry at pretty much all of my children’s accomplishments. I knew this because I would sit in the audience for my niece’s choir concerts or my nephew’s Karate meets and I would feel this big welling up of pride and a bit of tears in my eyes. So as my son’s first day of kindergarten approached, I knew I was going to have to have a big bunch of Kleenex in my purse. I did pretty good in the beginning. And then my husband gave my son a hug and I heard my son say he was kind of scared. That did it. Bawl city here we come. I still managed to keep myself under control so he wouldn’t get more scared, but the second the big doors locked behind him I was a mess. Luckily his school has a fantastic PTCO that has a boo hoo/woo hoo tea where you can go and write letters to your child and meet other parents and have some treats. This event got me through the first hour. The second day was Friday, much easier. And then came Monday. The first full week. And I was tearing up again. But in this time I did learn quite a bit about having a kiddo start kindergarten. I thought I would share it with you because, let’s face it, kindergarten is sometimes harder on the parents than it is the kiddo! And the tips aren’t just for those kindies, they are great suggestions for everyone with a child in school.
START A ROUTINE AND GET EXCITED EARLY: It may take your child a few weeks to get used to a new bedtime. Start the new routine about two weeks before school actually starts. We are pretty scheduled, which makes it easier on my kids as well as me. Dinner is around the same time each weeknight, then comes getting ready for school the next day (including laying out clothes) then comes bath time, then fun and relax time, and then the bedtime routine. Homework is done right after school so it doesn’t have to be thought about for the rest of the night. Get your child excited early! Check some books out from the library, go school shopping, pick out the special “first day” outfit, talk about all they are going to learn and do.
BE AWARE HOW YOU ARE REACTING AFFECTS YOUR CHILD: On the first day, keep in mind that your child is going to be affected by you. If you are upset and crying, they may become sad, angry, embarrassed, or any mix of many emotions. It is okay to be a bit nostalgic and sad, and it is okay to tell your child this without making them feel guilty. But also be sure to show them how excited you are for the journey they are beginning, how proud you are of them for all that they have accomplished and for being so brave, and how happy you are that they are excited.
BE PREPARED FOR THE FIRST DAY: Make sure you cover all bases. If you will be walking your child to school, take the walk a few days before to see how long it takes. If they are riding the bus, walk to the stop with them, or even drive to the school so you can determine what time you will need to leave the house. Then add five minutes for the nerves when you get there and an extra five in case there are last minutes before you even leave the house. The last thing you need is a rushed and flustered first day. Grab some Kleenex (even if you don’t plan on crying, you just may!). Give your child a great breakfast, and make sure to have everything laid out the night before-such as clothes (including socks and shoes and hair accessories), backpack and supplies, and snacks.
HAVE A PLAN FOR THE FIRST DAY (FOR YOU): If you know it is going to be a bit rough on you, don’t just sit around the house waiting for your kiddo to get out of school. See if the PTO has an event happening, and if so, go to it. Plan to do your grocery shopping that day, go to breakfast (or lunch) with a friend, grab a new book and go get a coffee. But don’t wallow in missing your little one.
SET ASIDE SOME SPECIAL TIME AFTER SCHOOL: Now that things are getting settled, I use the walk home from school or dinnertime to talk to my son about what happened at school that day. But the first day of school, we went to lunch together. He picked a place (although his pick was a bit pricey so we had to compromise just a bit) and it was just the two of us. We talked a bit about school and then whatever else HE wanted to talk about. I turned off my phone and paid attention to only him.
STICK WITH A ROUTINE: Kids thrive with a routine. Every family has a different routine, and no way is necessarily right or wrong, but letting them know what is expected of them and letting them have a sense of control and knowledge of what is going to happen and when will keep them calm and focused on school. On weekends it is okay to have a slightly later bedtime if it doesn’t affect what time they wake up in the morning, but if you notice they are sleeping later it is best to keep them at the set time.
PREPARE FOR BUMPS IN THE ROAD: Just like adults, all kids handle things differently. My son doesn’t necessarily like changes or the unexpected. So the third day of school when we were later than usual-not even late, just not early like we had been the first two days-he got into a bit of a funk. He got irritated and sad and the day looked like it was going to start badly. Luckily I got it under control, helped him meet the girl in line next to him and make a new friend, and then promised we would set our alarm five minutes earlier so this wouldn’t happen again. Later we did discuss that sometimes things we don’t plan for happen, but for the most part, our routines allow us to keep him happy knowing what is going to happen.
KEEP TALKING!: At some point each day, give your child at least five minutes of your undivided attention. You will be surprised at how far it will go. And even if they don’t have much to say at that particular time, asking questions about their day and what they did will let them know you are interested and later they may remember something and come tell you about it. And when they do want to talk, be prepared to stop what you are doing and look them in the eyes while they tell you their story. Now is the time to be building the trust and open lines of communication. Let them know it is okay to come to you, and let them know you are truly interested in what they have to say and what their days at school are like! You won't regret changing your plans for that small amount of time when you see how close you and your child will become.