The first weeks of school are a time to help your child adjust to the routines, get excited about learning, and become more independent from you. Here are some ways you can help.
Get to know the teacher. The faster you can establish a positive relationship with your child’s teacher, the faster your child may adjust to the new surroundings and become independent. “The safer your child feels, the more energy she can put into learning — so from a parent’s perspective, you want to support your child forming that bond with the teacher,” comments Diane Levin, Ph.D.
If your child takes the school bus, encourage her to make bus friends. Get to know other parents at the bus stop to help you feel connected to school and to help your child find friends. Create your own special goodbye ritual to send your child off with a good feeling.
When you take your young child into the classroom, ask to see some work. If you sense your child feels uneasy at drop off, focus on the positive. Ask him to show you an art project or other activity he’s doing at school.
If your child misses you a lot, choose a special object together that she can bring to school. Sometimes it helps with the transition if kids can bring a memento from home — a parent’s picture, a note, a scarf, or other special object to remind them that their parents are thinking of them. Encourage your child to show the object to the teacher. You should inquire to see if there is a policy about how your child can use the object during the school day.
If your child says, “I don’t want to go,” remind him about the fun stuff. Think of something you know your child loves to do, or likes about school. See if you can get started on this activity together. Or remind your child of all the new or old friends in his class. And go over and say hello together. If you don’t take your child to school, suggest he do some of these activities when he gets there, and send a note to the teacher about your concerns.
If your child says, “I hate school,” ask her what is wrong. “Usually kids will be able to tell you,” recommends Diane Levin, Ph.D. “It’s common for children to worry about playing on the playground with bigger kids, or about when Mommy will return for pick up.” Help your child develop a solution to the problem. You might ask, “What makes the playground feel scary?” Suggest you talk to the teacher with your child about it. Ask your child if she wants to tell the teacher herself or would like you to do it.
Don’t be surprised if your child is upset at the end of the day. Kids often save up their hard feelings for the parents — because it feels safer to let these feelings out at home than at school. “It’s actually a good thing when kids save up their hard feelings for their parents,” advises Lawrence Cohen, Ph.D. “You can even expect a surge in sibling rivalry or fighting with parents at home. Kids don’t usually come home and tell you ‘things got rough on the playground,’ but they may act out their feelings at home.”
Ask the school for help if your child has trouble adjusting. If separation remains stressful after a few weeks, set up a meeting with your child’s teacher and the school’s guidance counselor or principal to speak about the best ways everyone can help you adjust. If possible, meet without your child, but you may want to schedule a separate meeting with your child present, so everyone can make a plan together.
Attend school events. Go to Back-to-School night and PTA meetings. These events give you the opportunity to see the world your child inhabits every day and meet the people in charge (as well as other parents).