By Alison Cupp Relyea
It is back-to-school season, and everywhere, parents and children are saying good-bye to the summer, usually a season marked by an increase in family time, and saying hello to new teachers and friends. This is an exciting time, particularly for young children and new parents who have been looking forward to those first preschool experiences, but it can also be a time of nerves and worries. Children may be separating for the first time, which means parents are also separating for the first time. I have had three children transition to school and I spent many years on the other side of the door as an elementary school teacher, and while every child is different, there are some easy tips to follow that will make the transitions easier.
The first tip for parents is to practice walking away. If your child senses that you are confident and happy about the new school or new classroom, he or she will likely also be happy and confident. A child whose parent is able to say a quick goodbye at the door will learn to transition more smoothly than one whose parent seems worried or attached. In the beginning, many children may seem worried and will cling to parents, but the more able you are to stand your ground and maintain enthusiasm for school, the easier it will be for your child. Preschool is a wonderful part of childhood and most children love playing with friends and teachers, but it is often accompanied by feelings of separation. Try to keep it as simple as possible.
Keeping a routine at home is one of the most important things you can do to help back to school go smoothly. Summer is not a time of routine and schedule for many, and fall can feel overwhelming for children and parents alike. Prioritize healthy meals, time outdoors and rest over activities and playdates, especially in the beginning as your child is adjusting. Set a bedtime routine, full of books, cuddles and quiet time, and stick to it. You and your child both need adequate sleep and feeling tired or rushed can create anxiety.
Lastly, use the new school experience as a way to get to know your child better rather than focusing on missing him or her. Young children have a hard time answering open-ended questions such as “How was school today?” or “Do you like school?” They tend to give one-word answers. If you ask specific questions, however, such as, “Who did you play with at recess?” or “What did you have for snack today?” they will often tell you the answer to that question as well as much more detail about their school day. Learning how to listen to your child will help ease any worries you have and will add to your child’s delight as a new world unfolds.