This fall my oldest child, who is a newer teacher, will be welcoming a classroom of kindergarteners. I remember when I sent her off to school for the first time and the mix of emotions that comes with that milestone event. Change can be stressful for young children. When my son and a good friend started kindergarten, I was the drop off person. I ended up spending the entire morning sitting with my son’s friend because of the difficulty he had transitioning to this new environment. We reminisced about this recently as they graduated together from the same college. That first day of kindergarten was a rough one but they both made it to college graduation! This all started me thinking about what parents can do to help younger elementary children, particularly kindergarteners, have a successful school year.
PBS shares tips for parents related to change at school. One is to talk to children about their feelings when doing something new – like starting school. Sometimes these discussions with our children can point out the truth of what they are worrying about. As a parent, we may think our child is worried about making friends when really, they are worried about where the bathroom is or how they are getting home. The PBS article points out that when we do not talk about things with our children, they will use their imagination to fill in the gaps. Sometimes they will imagine the worst.
Having open discussions with your child about what to expect can help with the stress of something new. Explain what will happen, how the day will work, who else will be there. We learned early on with our son that explaining what to expect helped him deal with change. Even after the school year starts, continue to have these conversations. What is something you are excited about today? What is something that is making you nervous? Do you have any questions about anything? This open communication will help your child will allow them to know that you want to hear about the what is happening with them – both good and bad.
Sometimes when our children talk to us, it is tempting to minimize their feelings. Another tip that PBS shares is to allow your children to express their feelings. When we have empathy towards our children and listen to them, we let them know that emotions are normal. It is okay to be sad, angry, nervous and everything else that might come with navigating the school year. You can validate your child’s feelings with responses like:
- “That sounds tough.”
- “That is so frustrating.”
- “If that happened to me, I would be sad, too!”
As parents, we also must remember that children cannot always name their feelings. Crying, yelling, withdrawal, acting out and regression can also be signs that something is wrong, and they need help. When my son was younger, he went through a couple weeks where he was saying not very nice things to his dad, sister, and me. At first, I thought it was that behavior that we needed to address. After some reflection, his dad and I realized that this verbal aggression was the outcome of something he was struggling with inside. Once we addressed that issue, things calmed down. It was a good lesson for me as a parent to take the time and ask questions to get to the heart of the problem.
Another great suggestion from the PBS article is to be sure that we, as parents, are aware of our own emotions. Our children are aware of our emotions and how we react can influence them. If our children see that we are not too worried about something, they will think that everything is going to be alright.
What are other practical ways that we can help children as they transition back to school? Research tells us that routines are important to children. Providing your child with predictable routines can help them feel more comfortable. Consider having regular times for meals, homework, and bedtime. Consider building fun evening routines that include time for fun and time together as a family. Make sure that your child gets a good night’s sleep.
Communicate with your child’s teacher as appropriate. Teachers see you child in a variety of situations. They can not only share with you about academic progress but also about many other parts of your child’s school experience. In elementary school, one of the questions I always asked teachers was about my children’s social growth. Did they have friends to play with on the playground or sit with at lunch? How did they interact with their peers? Your child’s teacher can be a great support.
Connecting with teachers and the school can be a great way to support your child and a way for you to meet other parents. The Centers for Disease Control suggests that “when parents participate in their child’s school activities, kids get better grades, choose healthier behaviors, and have better socials.” How can you get involved? Ask your child’s teacher how you can help in the classroom. You might be able to help a teacher prep supplies for lessons, cut out classroom decorations, or help with classroom activities. As your child gets more involved in school activities, attend those activities. Join the organizations that support your school – a PTO, Music Boosters, etc. Use your talents and interests to enhance what your child’s school offers.
Other ideas as your child goes back to school.
- Keep transportation consistent – For kindergarteners especially, where everything is new and can be confusing, keeping transportation consistent can help them feel comfortable and confident.
- Have a transition object – If your child is nervous about school, have something small that they can keep in their pocket or backpack to help decrease anxiety. It might be a family picture, small stuffed animal, or a favorite toy. Communicate with your child’s teacher about this object because you do not want it to become a distraction in the classroom.
- Create a goodbye ritual – Remembering that children like routines, a goodbye ritual is a great way to consistently start the day. Have a special wave, handshake, or phrase.
- Help them make friends – As the school year starts, consider scheduling a play date with other students in your child’s class.
- Read books about school – Reading together as a family is a great way to build literacy. Include books about back to school. Some titles include: The Night Before Kindergarten, Llama, Llama Misses Mama, David Goes to School or Pete the Cat: Rocking in My School Shoes.
Ask open ended questions to find out about your child’s day. This allows for more conversation. I still try to practice this with my 21-year-old son. If I just ask how his day was, the answer I get “fine” and the conversation ends. Here are some examples to ask your child:
- What did you learn today?
- Who did you sit with at lunch?
- What was the best thing that happened today?
- What was the worst part of school today?
- What was a rule that was hard to follow?
Going back to school is exciting and sometimes scary all at the same time. When we as parents, help our children with the transition back to the classroom, we can help them be successful.
Back to School: Ideas for Parent Involvement. (2023, August 9). Retrieved from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/B2S.htm
Dowty, A. (n.d.). Helping Your Kindergartener Adjust to School. Retrieved from Family Health Clinic. familyhconline.com/helping-your-kindergartener-adjust-to-school/
Farmer, D. (2022, January 11). Helpng Kids Handle Change at School. Retrieved from PBS Kids. pbs.org/parents/thrive/helping-kids-handle-change-at-school