For parents of young children, back to school often goes hand in hand with cries of “Mommy, don’t go!” But for parents of all pre-school and elementary-age kids, there are bound to be a few growing pains. Here are six tips on how to prepare for the daily goodbyes—and make things easier for all of you.
1. Know your child
If your child isn’t prone to clinging, don’t plant worry seeds. You’ll just create stress where there isn’t any. On the other hand, if you think she’ll have a hard time, do have a few upbeat conversations to explain what’s happening. If you can visit the school together beforehand, then do so. Anxiety stems from the unknown, so the key is to find a balance between telling them what they need to know without overdoing it.
If possible have a special event planned to celebrate a successful day or week of school. Celebrating a successful experience is a good motivator to keep your child going.
For younger children it’s a great idea to let them take a special object from home to help them stay connected. This might be a special toy or a picture of mom and dad or caretaker.
2. De-stress your morning routine
Plan nightly to make the morning go better – get clothes out, pack up backpacks, talk about lunches, even have them help you get lunch boxes together. Make this part of your evening routine, thereby making your morning routine easier.
Establish a regular bedtime and early-wake time. Build in 10 extra minutes each morning for those unexpected “events,” because something always comes up. Have a sit-down breakfast. This isn’t just for the first day, but for every day. Don’t be late – when you’re late, it increases your child’s stress (and yours).
3. Encourage your child to share their fears.
“What are you afraid of? Friends, teacher, school work?” Help your child understand that others share these fears, too. (You may need to probe to get them to open up.) This is a good opportunity to share the fears that you felt toward some school experiences. Describe how you faced and overcame your fears.
*Example: When I was in Kindergarten, I found my way to the main office and asked to call my mom. When my mom answered the phone from work, I said, “I need to see your happy, smiling face.” She showed up. This was the reassurance I needed. I didn’t need to call again.
4. Role Play events that might happen at school
Take turns playing some realistic school scenarios. Use this role play time to practice strategies that your child can use when challenges arise. You can even reverse roles and let her be the parent and you be the child.
*Example– “What are some things you could do if someone was unkind to you?” This is an ideal time to emphasize the role of a caring teacher who is always approachable.
*Example– Your child may say, “I don’t have anyone to play with at recess.” Find out who your child might like to play with so the you can speak to their parents and set up a play day outside of school.
*Example– Your child may say, “The teacher doesn’t give me enough time to finish my work.” This is a good cue to discuss this concern with your child’s teacher and figure out a way to help your child be more confident with classwork.
*Example— You might use this time to help your child practice breathing exercises to relax their body when anxious thoughts arise.
5. Help your child focus on the positives of school.
Have them identify the things that they enjoy.
*Example— “What is something you did at school that made you feel proud?” “What is something that made you laugh?”
*Example– Give your child something to look forward to at the end of the school day. Help your child focus on the reality that you will be together at the end of the day, and you will have a special activity to share with your child.
*Example—Create an upbeat goodbye ritual–Whether it’s a silly handshake or a simple call-and-response phrase like, “See ya later alligator/After a while crocodile,” find something unique to do as you say your goodbyes. The repetition translates into comfort; letting your child know that they are in a situation they’ve been in before. Plus, it also gives you a firm exit point.
Keep it short and sweet. And at the end of the school day, make sure you’re not late picking them up. Be waiting for them with open arms and celebrate their success of another good school day.