Whether you’re a first time mom or a veteran parent, sending your toddler off to school for the first time can be scary and emotional. Maybe you’re worried your kid will be shy, or the teacher won’t care for your baby the way you do. Maybe your child is experiencing some sad or anxious feelings about school….or maybe you are! After all, going off to school is not just a new adventure for them, but a new one for parents as well.
As a parent, though, it’s your job to get your kid excited for the first day of school so they can feel confident and prepared. And whether you want to believe it not, most kids are more independent and ready for school than you think.
Here’s 10 expert tips to help you send your kid out into the great big world confident and prepared.
1. Make a Pre-First Day Visit: Prior to the first day of school, visit the school and check out your kid’s classroom. Get your kid familiar with what the building looks like and let them play on the school playground or sit in the front yard. You can even let your child wear his or her new backpack as “practice.” These visits increase your child’s comfort in their new setting.
2. Let Your Child Pick Out Supplies: Get your kid excited and involved by letting them choose a new backpack, insulated soft lunchbox or other school supplies. A small backpack is best so your child can carry it themselves and make sure to let your kid pick one based on his or her favorite color or style to get him or her excited and ready for the first day.
3. Choose Items that Encourage Independence: Preschool is about gaining independence and learning to master things on their own. Let your kid choose a lunch kit they are able to open and close themselves. Also, you can use a booster chair at home to transition your child out of the high chair, and get them used to sitting independently. They’ll be pleasantly surprised when the chairs in their classroom are just their size, no booster chair needed! Encourage basic self-care skills by dressing your kid in clothing they can take on and off themselves. Rompers are adorable, but terrible for potty breaks. High-tops with laces may look cool, but your kid needs to be able to take on and off their own shoes. Eating, dressing and going to the bathroom independently are big steps in preschool and most kids are excited to show their parents that they can do things all by themselves.
4. Talk about Morning Routines: Kids find comfort in routines. Make a picture board or a chart that outlines the few things they will need to do each day before leaving for school: wake up, have breakfast, get dressed, brush their teeth and hair, put on shoes and pack their backpacks. When your kid knows what to expect each day, it will make the mornings smoother for you and calmer for them.
5. Explain How the School Day Will Go: Talk to your child about who their teachers will be, what the schedule of activities during the day will flow like, and who will be there for pick up. For many kids, preschool is the first time they are sitting with other kids at lunch or napping on cots surrounded by others. Talking about the logistics of the classroom and the routine of the day will help them feel prepared.
6. Set-up Playdates in Advance: Use your class list or call the school for a recommendation for a play date before school begins. Seeing a friendly face on the first day will help your kid feel more comfortable breaking away from you.
7. Include Comfort Items: A beloved book, sippy cup with your child’s favorite animal character or a picture of your family can go a long way in easing your child’s nerves and getting them comfortable. (Be sure to ask your school about any restrictions on bringing toys or stuffed animals from home!)
8. Get Teachers Involved: Get to know your teachers and provide them with some information about your child. You will be partners in your child’s development, so make sure to chat, smile and engage. Your kid will feel more comfortable separating from you if they get a good feeling about their teacher.
9. Read Up: There is no shortage of great books about going to school for the first time. Some favorites include A Kissing Hand for Chester Raccoon, Llama Llama Misses Mama and Maisy Goes to Preschool. Elmo and Daniel Tiger also have books where they share their feelings and preschool experience. Reading books and sharing stories will help your kid get excited for and comfortable about the new experience.
10. Plan Your Goodbyes: Plan out a goodbye ritual so your kid knows what to expect at drop off. Hovering, lingering or sneaking away can all cause more tears so keep goodbyes short, sweet and positive. I promise, your kid is more ready for school than you think!
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Jill Ceder is psychotherapist and writer working with children and families in Brooklyn. Utilizing child development research, mindfulness and practical knowledge, she helps parents navigate the challenges of raising toddlers and teenagers. You can read more of her writing on her website www.jillceder.com
Photography by Stylish & Hip Kids for Well Rounded.