Getting Preppies Ready for the First Days of School
Starting school can be a big change for your child - and for your family too! Although it’s an exciting time, it’s normal to feel a little worried or sad about it.
Something that isn’t always talked about or handled as well as it could be is the school drop off. Parents are often left wondering what to do and how best to approach what can sometimes be a difficult or anxious time - for children and parents.
For most children however, settling into school is relatively trouble free. Here is some general advice which you might find helpful.
IT’S TIME TO GO - TIPS FOR SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION
Be enthusiastic. Be excited and enthusiastic about your child starting school before it even begins. This sends your child the positive message that school is exciting and that they will cope and have fun.
Always say goodbye and reassure your child. Reassure your child that you will collect them at the end of the day, or tell them what the arrangement will be (e.g., if someone else will be collecting them). This helps them to feel safe and secure.
Develop a positive routine for saying goodbye. For instance, a high five or big hug. Tell them how much you love them.
Talk positively. Be positive about what they will do during the day when they are away from you. For instance, “you’re going to have lots of fun playing with your new friends, painting, going outside, and reading stories”.
Special objects. Some children like to have a special object from home with them which they keep in their bag (e.g., a family picture, special toy or garden stone). A 'special' key ring can be clipped onto their bag - perhaps one that you have chosen together or reminds your child of home. Key rings are not easily lost.
Read picture story books together. There are a range of excellent picture books about starting school which give children positive messages. Read them together before going to bed. Picture books can be particularly helpful in preparing for starting school. For example, "The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn is a story about a racoon who doesn't want to start school. His mother kisses his hand and tells him that whenever he is feeling lonely or overwhelmed at school he can put his hand to his cheek and know that his mother loves him. The kissing hand is a kind of 'special' object which you could try with your child.
Avoid lengthy goodbyes. Extended goodbyes might increase distress. Use the strategies described here and keep the separation relatively brief. If you do decide to remain in the room for five or ten minutes, this time should be gradually reduced over the first two to three weeks.
Be mindful of your own emotions during separation or transition. It can be upsetting to see your child distressed and/or you might feel anxious about the separation. Your child is likely to pick up on your feelings or because of your emotions, you might stay longer than is necessary. Remember, children often do well once parents leave.
Develop a positive morning routine. The way that things start off in the morning often sets the tone for the rest of the day. A morning routine can help children to arrive at school feeling calm and ready to begin the day. Disagreements in the morning make it difficult to work well together in order to get to school on time, feeling relaxed and ready to go.
Involve the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher can help you to develop a routine or utilise some specific strategies to help your child to settle in the morning.
Talk to other parents. Sometimes it’s helpful to talk to other parents about how you’re feeling. They might also have some useful tips.
Get professional support. If you are concerned about your child or if you aren't feeling confident yourself, it can help to get support from a psychologist experienced in assisting children and families with these kinds of difficulties.
Using these strategies can assist school transition. It is important for your child to develop skills of resilience, self-soothing and emotion regulation. It is also important for you to gain confidence and feel OK about dropping your child to school. After all, they will have a wonderful time, learning new skills and developing friendships.
Congratulations - your child has reached another milestone in their development into a confident young person. Best wishes!