Many young kids become stressed at the thought of being away from their parents to go to school, even if it’s not the first time. With new things being expected of them and so many unfamiliar faces, it can be daunting for any child. But there are ways to help ease their minds (and yours!) as you make the transition into the new school year.
Read books about school.
There are a plethora of self-help-type books for kids. They cover many issues and can easily be found in your local library. Starting school can cause separation anxiety for young kids. Books like The Kissing Hand explain and reassure your child that school is not only fun, but that Mom (or another loved one) will be there at the end of the day. (See below for a comprehensive list of books that help deal with anxieties and other general books about school.)
Go to bed earlier and allow ample time in the morning to get ready.
It can be hard getting up early if your child has been sleeping in all summer. Try to adjust to an earlier bedtime about a week (or a few days) before school starts and then get up about 20 minutes earlier than you think you need to. This allows extra time in case your child needs more comfort. If everyone is rushing around, it stresses everyone out.
Prepare lunch/backpack the night before.
If the lunch is already prepared and stored in the fridge and the backpack is ready to go, that’s two less things to worry about in the morning. Consider putting a note in your child’s lunchbox or backpack. If they can’t read yet, draw a little picture for them.
Create a special handshake/wave/wink/hug/secret phrase when saying goodbye. Maybe you give each other three big hugs. Or whisper something goofy in your child’s ear to make them laugh before they walk into the classroom. Maybe you give each other a kiss on each cheek and say “Au Revoir!” Come up with something that is personal. It can really help and your kiddo will remember it forever.
Give your child a family picture they can keep in their pocket or backpack.
I learned this trick from a cute book called Planet Kindergarten. Many teachers will create a bulletin board or display at some point in the school year where kids can bring in photos of their families but why not let him/her have a photo of you with them from Day 1?
Plan something special that your child can look forward to at the end of the first day/week.
This can be simple but pick something your kid will enjoy. A trip to Yogurtland after school gives you time to discuss their first day. Or if there’s a new movie he/she wants to see coming out, plan to go together during the weekend.
*Consider having the other parent or another family member drop off the child.
If your child is close with both parents and, let’s say for example, is super attached to Mom at the moment, try having Dad do drop-offs for a few days. All parents have their strengths and dropping off a young child for school can be just as hard (maybe harder) on some parents than it is on the child.
Say goodbye (or do your special thing) and then GO. Lingering can make things worse if your child is already having a tough time. Be prepared for tears. You may even shed some yourself. (I did. Like a lot.) But stay strong and try to keep it together. If parents are invited to stay awhile the first day or few days, feel free to do so. But once you notice the other parents are leaving and/or the teacher is beginning instruction, you don’t want to be a distraction.
*I was hesitant to include this one but it was honestly what worked best for our family. My oldest son was really attached to me when he started preschool at age 4 and was having a terrible time saying goodbye. Though I tried my hardest to be strong, tears would stream down my face every morning if I saw my son was upset. When my husband took my son solo, he did significantly better. And as for end of the day pick-up, that’s always a time I’ve enjoyed!
School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illustrated by Christian Robinson
This story is told from the perspective of the school, making it really interesting and creative. Some of the kids are nervous and the school is nervous too! It’s clever, funny and beautifully illustrated. We loved this unique book.
A Tiger Tail: (Or What Happened to Anya on Her First Day of School) by Mike Boldt
A silly and creative story with a moral at the heart, Anya awakes on the first day of school to discover she has grown a tail. She’s mortified but goes to school anyway and sees that everyone is different, even her teacher. We loved the vibrant pictures (Boldt also recently illustrated I Don’t Want to be a Frog) and the lessons on diversity and individuality.
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, illustrated by Ruth E. Harper and Nancy M. Leak
Published in 1993, this has become a staple in preschools and many kindergarten classes, and for good reason. It’s a sweet tale about a little raccoon who is going to school for the first time. He’s understandably sad to leave his mother so she gives him a special kiss to help ease his anxieties.
Owl Babies by Martin Waddell, illustrated by Patrick Benson
I admit it, this one really isn’t about school but it is a book that shows young readers that Mom (or Dad or Grandma) always comes back. Simply written and beautifully illustrated with ink and watercolors.
Mama’s Right Here by Liza Baker, illustrated by David McPhail
This one is a little harder to find, but it’s a touching story. Very simple text and pictures make it great for preschoolers.
Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
If your children enjoy the Llama Llama books, then this book will not disappoint. With Dewdney’s familiar rhyming style and well-crafted pictures, it’s a comforting story for young readers.
Fun Books About School:
Planet Kindergarten by Sue Ganz-Schmitt, illustrated by Shane Prigmore
This book also deals with the issue of separation anxiety but it’s a presented in a more fun and exciting way. You may find yourself explaining certain parts to your child because of the imaginative writing style, but I can almost assure you that you’ll find it clever and entertaining.
Froggy Goes to School by Frank Remkiewicz
My kids love the Froggy books. They all follow this sort of rhythm (thought they aren’t rhyming books) and this one is no different. It’s silly, fun and light-hearted.
If You Take a Mouse to School by Laura Numeroff, illustrated by Felicia Bond
Here’s another story with a character many children will know. There’s a chain of events, showcased with cute and fun illustrations, that little children will enjoy.
Miss Nelson is Missing! by Harry G. Allard Jr., illustrated by James Marshall
I recently re-read this book and though it felt slightly dated (it was first published in 1977), I did really enjoy it. I think this one is probably for slightly older children (grades 2-3, perhaps) because of some of the behavior from the characters (you can always generate a discussion of what not to do in class) but it’s still an entertaining story with a fun, twist ending.