How to help your child get ready for their first day of school.

In a few weeks I will be sending my third child to kindergarten. I have what I expect is a pretty common reaction. "How can this be happening so soon?"  This first day of school is full of both anxiety and excitement, -- both for me and my child. Having been through this twice before, and with many of the lessons I've learned by studying RIE for all these years in mind, here is my plan and my advice, if you’re child is starting school or pre-school this year.

The way we respond to the idea of school will have a lot to do with how our children feel about it as well. If we are weepy and say things like "You can't be big enough for Kindergarten yet. You’re just my baby. I think I will keep you home and just snuggle you forever."  As sweet and loving as that is, and while we know we don't really mean it, they may think, "Yeah, I'm probably not big enough. You're right. I can't deal with this. I’m not ready."  Or at least they may feel that way a little. Here is yet another time when we simply must be their calm, confident leader. They are taking a big step into an unknown world and we need to let them know that we have every confidence in them. We know they are capable. We know that we are sending them to the best place for them and we know they will be well cared for there. Not only will it be good for them but it will also be fun. We must be sure to let them know that we trust and believe in their teacher who will be their new leader when we are not there. Yes, acknowledge and accept their feelings, but stay calm and confident in our choice.

What about our feelings?  Well, this for me is a little bit of a tight rope. Yes we must acknowledge and accept our own feelings and be our authentic self, but try to indulge those feelings away from the children. They will know if this is hard for us and we can absolutely tell them that we are used to having them with us all the time, or something along those lines. We should probably stay away from saying things that make us seem less than completely confident in our decision to send them to school. Also, try to avoid using terms like "Big boy" or "All grown up."  They may not feel this way and then feel like they are failing.

Express yourself:

We must allow our children to express themselves and their feelings about school. Remember these feelings may be new to them. We can help best by simply being ok with whatever they are feeling that day. Start talking about school early so they get some time to work it out for themselves. By talking, I mean let them talk. Sure we answer any questions they have, but let them talk. If they like to draw, see if they want to draw pictures of what they think school will be like. Read books about the first day of school. One note here, read them to yourself first to make sure you agree with the message in the book. If a child says they are scared, or they don't want to go to school, or something along those lines, totally accept those feelings. We mustn’t let that upset us. These are just some of their feelings on the subject, not all of them. Be sympathetic but not overly so. Let them know that we know this is something they can handle.

Make getting ready special:

School shopping is a great time to help our little ones get excited about school. This might be the first time they ever had a new backpack. We can take them with us and let them help pick things out. It will mean more to them if they do. Who doesn't love a fresh box of crayons? (Or is that just me?)  Haircuts, new shoes -- all of this can be just for school. However, for some kids this seems like pressure. For those kids, back off a little. Sure let them help pick stuff out, but keep the attitude that it's no big deal, just something we do.

Do a drive by (or 12):

Maybe we could drive, or better yet, walk by the school a few times. The biggest thing that is scary is the unfamiliarity of it. If the school has an open house or tour, which most schools do, take advantage of that. Meet the teacher and ask questions. Take pictures so your child can look at them later.

The big day:

We must give ourselves plenty of time. Make sure we don't have to rush out the door. There may be unexpected things we have to deal with and we want plenty of time to work through them. The children might have big feelings about this day (we might also) and we need time to process them. Things feel more chaotic when we rush so we may need to prepare ahead in order to take this morning slow.

Big Feelings for a Big Day:

We may all have big feelings about this day and everyone processes these things differently. My first was very nervous and upset on her first day. My second couldn't wait for me to leave. Who knows how my third will react. But whatever it is I will accept his feelings. Not try to "fix" them or change them -- just be there for support.

The Goodbye

This is the big moment. There will be lots of hugs and kisses or high-fives or whatever works, but at some point it will be clear that this is the time to leave, or better yet for them to leave us, and go into the classroom. Think ahead and have something in mind to be the last sign of support before exiting. Then after the last hug we must clearly and confidently say goodbye and confidently leave or let them go. We mustn't sneak away even if we think that might help avoid some tears. It is a betrayal of trust to sneak off with out letting a person know. But we can't linger or draw out our goodbyes either. It might seem like we lack confidence in them or in the hands we are leaving them in. We must give a calm confident goodbye -- and then we can cry in the car if we want to.

I hope this helps some of you out there. Just writing down my thoughts about it has helped me prepare to do this another time. Good luck to all our new students in the class of 2028!