It was hard. Really hard.
And I had a pretty ideal setup. He’s at the same school where I teach. I know and trust his teachers. He’s only there half the day. Yet even with all of these factors on our side, both of our lives felt disrupted in a major way, and things are just now starting to feel normal six weeks later.
Whether it’s their very first time being away without you or just a transition to a new school, here are six things you can do to make the change a little bit easier, for both of you:
1. Visit together
Especially if you have a younger child, ask the school if you can visit together and spend some time either in his classroom or on the . This will help both you and your child feel safe and comfortable as he explores his new environment for the first time.
If joint visits are not allowed by the school, try driving to the school on a Saturday and just showing your child the outside. This is especially helpful if you can see the playground from the parking lot, as many children will be excited to check out the new equipment they’ll get to enjoy.
2. Transition gradually
If the school or daycare allows it, do a gradual transition where your child stays a little bit longer each day.
If it’s your child’s very first time being away from you, start with just an hour. Based on how she reacts to the new environment, work with her teachers to find a transition timeline that will push her a little more each day so that she’s comfortable.
3. Tell your child what to expect
Hyping things up too much can backfire—children see through us so easily. Telling your child he’ll have the best day ever and going on about how fun school is while you’re actually anxious about how he’ll handle it won’t work.
This approach can also be problematic because if you tell your child he’ll love school, and then he doesn’t, he may be confused or feel like he can’t trust what you say. Instead, try talking to him about the specifics of his day. Tell him the name of his and tell him a few details about the daily schedule.
For example, try something like, “When you get to your classroom, you’ll see Ms. Jones. You’ll play inside for an hour, then play on the playground, and then eat lunch. Then I’ll come and take you home.”
Understanding what will happen while he’s at school or daycare will help him feel more comfortable. As the day progresses, he will see that what you told him is indeed happening and that will help him feel safe.
4. Adjust your schedule at home
Request a copy of your child’s schedule and try to follow it as closely as possible at home the week before he starts group care. For example, if the class eats lunch at 11am and naps at 12pm, try adjusting your home schedule to match.
Being away from you in a new environment is a lot of change as it is. Adjusting your schedule ahead of time will help the rhythms of the school day feel more natural to your child.
5. Clear your calendar
It can be tempting to try to make up for lost time and do *all the things* when you pick your child up from school or on the weekends.
Even if your child loves school or daycare right away though, it is a huge change and takes a mental toll. Try to keep as possible for the first few weeks of this transition. Plenty of time for open-ended play at home will give your child the opportunity to decompress and process everything that is happening.
6. Say goodbye with confidence
The number one suggestion I have for parents starting a child in our classroom is to say a quick, confident goodbye.
There are few things harder than leaving your child crying and screaming for you. The thing is, if you stay and try to comfort your child, she gets stuck in a sort of limbo and can’t move on. As long as you’re still there, part of her wonders if she can convince you to stay, and that makes it very hard to calm down.
Most children calm down very soon after their parents leave. If you’re concerned about leaving your child crying, ask the school to call you if he’s still upset in 30 minutes so you can come up with a plan.
Saying goodbye with confidence also shows your child that she is safe. If you seem anxious or upset to leave her, her anxiety will likely increase as it signals that it’s not okay for her to be left there.
is a huge adjustment, both for the parent and the child. No matter what you do, it will likely be a bumpy road for a little while. Taking some time to prepare your child ahead of time, though, will help you both feel a little more comfortable with all of the changes to come.