For our little ones, each fall is a new beginning. So much has happened over the summer: so much growth, so much change, so much being away from routine that going ‘back’ to school feels brand-new. Every year. We know to pack snuggly friends, a change of clothes, and rain boots in their backpacks, but what else do they need for school success?
Here are five strategies to help your child this autumn—whether they are brand-new to school or not.
· Think raindrops, not thunderstorms. Ease your child into the idea of school. In your conversations, mention school here, talk about a new teacher there. Discuss it one sentence at a time, like the drip drip drip of raindrops. A slow introduction to the idea allows children to approach it gently—If we try and talk to them about all aspects at school at once, it is overwhelming. Too much newness creates much too much stress. So say something once, then see if they grab ahold of it. If they want to talk about it, great, if they don’t, let the sentence slide on by.
· Do a drive-by. Before school begins, go there to check it out. Even if your child has gone there before, go back. Drive past it when no one else is around. Allow them to focus on the buildings, on the grounds. Seeing the place allows them to see themselves there. If your child feels ready, hop out of the car and walk the perimeter; peer in the windows, look for cubbies and snack tables; play on the swings, climb the structures. Give them time to feel familiar in the space. If they aren’t quite ready to explore? Return to that another day. Giving them a sense of ownership over the space gives them a sense of belonging. Familiarity will help them relax when they get there.
· Pack early, leave late. On the first day of school everyone is ramped up with nervous excitement. Or dread-filled energy. Or any other combinations of feelings. And that means everyone feels rushed. So relax. Breathe. Take your time. Consider getting up a bit earlier yourself that day so that when your child is awake, you can be fully focused on them. And set your internal clock ten minutes early. If you know you have to be leaving by 9:15 am, set your time frame for 9:05. That way when you are “late” and walking out the door at 9:11, no one is stressed. And if you are actually late to school? Trust me, teachers have seen it all. They know what to expect, so let that worry go.
· Pick a pattern. Then repeat it. Create a routine that you will do over and over again to help settle your child. Explain it to them as you go to school each day. “At school we’re going to hold hands in the parking lot, pull open the green door to go inside, put your things in the cubby, find a toy, then say goodbye with a big hug and kiss.” No detail is too small, but stick with a list of 5 or so things because both of you need to be able to remember it. Whatever your drop-off tradition is, the goodbye is the most important piece, and there are two key parts. It is oh-so-tempting to sneak away once they are distracted, but doing so only makes them more clingy, so be clear when you are saying goodbye. Also, don’t linger. The longer you stay, the more they think you might remain for the whole class. So rip the band-aid and run. If it helps, tell them where you are headed—especially if you’re headed to do errands they hate doing. School suddenly feels like a fabulous place instead of the place that makes them part from you.
· And last, feelings first. Our emotions are called feelings because we feel them. Ask your kiddo about their body on the trip to school. Where inside does it feel different? Does their stomach feel jumbly? Does their head feel like someone is pressing on it? Is it hard to take a deep breath like a dragon? Helping a child become aware of their somatic responses ties their physical reactions to their emotions. Your kiddo may not yet know the word bewildered, but they sure can tell you when it feels like their shoulders are heavy, or if their eyeballs feel itchy. And when you pick them up at the end of the day? Ask them again—what do you feel in your body? Then talk about how emotions come and go inside of us, that no matter how good or bad something feels, our feelings change.
Except love. Because our love for our children? That’s always and forever. No matter how many autumns we’ve had.
If you have any questions about back to school, transitions, siblings, sleep, discipline or any other parenting issues, you can connect with me: firstname.lastname@example.org or start at my website: www.evolving-parents.com.