It’s that time of year again – back to school! The start of a new school year can be overwhelming for teachers, parents, and children alike. For new kindergarten students, school can be especially anxiety-producing. New teachers, new peers, a new classroom, new routines, not to mention being the youngest and smallest children in a whole new school building. For kindergartners who didn’t attend Pre-K, it may be their first time in school at all! For some children, the changes can bring on anxiety and stress.
Here are a few tips for helping your kindergartner cope with the stress of a starting their first school year:
Talk about their new classroom and what to expect. Attend orientation events if possible to meet the teacher and visit the classroom ahead of time. Review what to do and who to talk to if they feel anxious or scared. Discuss ahead of time the routine of the day, including getting ready for school, getting on the bus or who will drop them off, lunch, recess, and any part of the routine you might know ahead of time. When children know what to expect, their anxiety tends to lessen.
Make drop off and saying goodbye a short, planned routine. It can be tempting for parents to stick around if their child is having a hard time saying goodbye, but your child’s teacher is prepared to handle it. Most children calm down very quickly once parents leave. Children can also pick up on your anxiety about leaving them, which can make them feel even more insecure. Having a brief ritual, such as giving a hug or high five, or having them push you out the door, can make for a simple planned transition. Then it’s up to you to confidently say goodbye and allow your child’s teacher to handle it from there.
Have some coping strategies ready ahead of time. Young children can learn basic breathing exercises, learn to identify helpers who they can ask for assistance, learn to ask for a break or other strategies that might work for your child. If your child expresses worry or anxiety about starting school, you can review some of these with them and make a plan for how and when to use them.
After school, ask specific questions about the day rather than a general, “How was your day?” Ask about who they talked to or played with, what was their favorite or least favorite activity, and what they liked or disliked about their teacher. This will demonstrate your interest in your child’s day, get you better information and lay the groundwork for regular communication about any problems that may arise.