Your child takes her cues from you, her parent. If you are calm, reassuring, optimistic, and supportive, your child will feel both confident and competent.
At the start of any school year, your child may experience separation anxiety – and so, too, may you. Therefore, it is so important for you to take the lead and parent – do not burden your child with your own anxieties. Be honest with your child, talk to her about her fears, and listen with empathy.
It is important when preparing your child for the first day of school to plan ahead. Here are some tips to help you with back-to-school prep.
- Start now. Find out what vaccinations are needed, what the dress code is so your child can have all the required clothing, backpacks, lunch boxes, and school supplies purchased in advance. No last-minute shopping – it only adds to stress at an already anxious time for both parents and children alike.
- Visit your child’s school at least one week in advance. Let your child get familiar with their classroom, the hallways, and important offices such as the nurse and principal.
- Practice and rehearse their classroom schedule. Don’t over program your child with activities. Allow time for homework, and be sure to build in free time to play and work off steam.
- Find out if there are any friends, relatives or neighbors in her class. If not, contact one or two of the parents in your child’s class and set up a play-date in advance of the first day of school. Knowing a child or buddy-system helps the transition to move more smoothly.
- Connect with teachers and staff ahead of time. Talk to the teacher, the nurse, the guidance counselor, and the principal. Show both your interest and your goodwill. Tell them of any concerns you have in regard to your child’s health, and apprise them of any learning problems in advance.
- Send your child to school with reminders of home. This can be a picture of you and your spouse or family picture – including siblings. This can be a touchstone that she can reach for when feeling uncomfortable or insecure.
- Start a bedtime schedule one week in advance of school so that your child gets at least 10 hours of sleep at night. As an adult, we know how cranky we get when we are tired, and so do our children. Remember that your child does not have your adult coping skills.
- Be reliable; be on time. It is important to take your child to school in the morning on time, and that means having a good breakfast, a good visit, and no rushing. Be there at the end of school on time, so that she can count on you to show up when you say you will. This builds self-actualization in your child. If she can count on you, she will count on herself and will learn to trust others.
- Safety first is a very important part of the first day of school, including teaching your child the proper way in advance to deal with bullies by reporting them to either a teacher or counselor. You want your child to know traffic safety, as well as physical safety. That means to partner with your neighbors and the school to give age-appropriate and balanced information about strangers and how to protect herself. If you have a young child, she should know her name, how to spell it, your home telephone number, and the number of a safe and responsible adult contact other than you or your spouse, such as a grandparent or neighbor. Also, do not label her clothes or lunch boxes. This makes her an easy target for unsavory characters.
- Talk with your child about her feelings and invite her to participate in a conversation that gives her some sense of control. Never embarrass, discount, or demean your child’s feelings. Ask how she would like to be helped in this transition – what things you can do and she can do as partners to make the first day of school a pleasant beginning. This is called the empathic process, and if you invest your child in the discussion, she is more likely to follow a smooth outcome and go happily to school. It is important to be honest with your child and tell her you will miss her too – and that she will like school because it will give her new and exciting experiences.