A Great Start to the School Year

Group of Elementary Pupils In Classroom

After a relaxing summer, getting into the school routine can be a tough transition.  There are lots of small things to do to help the school year get off to a great start.

  • Good night, good breakfast and calm morning – Do what you can the night before including pack lunches, pick outfits and review the schedule. Have a morning routine that ends with a few minutes for something your child enjoy, like legos or playing with the dog. It gives them something to work towards and gives you a time buffer. It may be helpful to be as routine about the mornings as you are about bedtimes.
  • Take advantage of preview experiences – This might include visiting the schools website with your child, playing on the school’s playground, and participating in home or early school visits. Anything to help your child feel familiar with their school.
  • Expect your child to be tired for at least the first several weeks. – This may mean you’ll see more acting out or difficult afternoons. It’s good to lay as low on outside activities as you can. It may be helpful to reinstitute an afternoon quiet time for a while.
  • Be on time – Schools usually do something predictable during the drop off window so children feel more comfortable. It helps your child to know what to expect as they enter. If you are late, the child has no idea what they are walking into. Being on time also ensures they are there for the morning planning time which can help a child feel settled.
  • Participate in school as you can – Be a room parent, volunteer to read, make play-doh or send in party supplies. Your child sees that you value school which goes a long way towards their motivation.
  • Plan playdates – It’s important to have time with a wide variety of kids in the class, not just their favorite one or two. It broadens your child’s social network and at some point during the year they will likely have to work in class with everybody.
  • Ask more interesting questions – Many parents note children aren’t great at answering, “what did you do at school today?” It’s helpful to ask different and more interesting questions each day like, “who did you sit with at lunch?” or, “did anything funny happen today?” It might also be helpful to wait and ask after they’ve had a bit of time away from school.
  • Read the Family Handbook – Schools work hard to write and update their manuals. Many of the questions you have throughout the year about school policies and calendars are answered in the handbook. Read it.
  • Remind them of previous positive transitions – Remind your child of how much fun it was to start at a new camp last summer or to join join a new soccer team. Tell upbeat stories about when you started school.
  • Read upbeat children’s story books about the start of school – Upbeat books include DW’s Guide to Preschool by Brown, What to Expect at Preschool by Murkoff, If You Take a Mouse to School by Numeroff, Kindergarten Here I Come by Steinberg and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
  • Know the drop off and pick up policies – Share the plan for drop off and pick up with your child. As best you can, be sure they know where to go and what to do.
  • If there is separation anxiety – It can be helpful to learn about and have a real plan for separation. This may vary by age and by school logistics. Here is a link to a free 20 minute interview I gave about managing separation anxiety: http://www.parentsperspective.org/index.php?s=separation

Tips for Starting Kindergarten

The start of Kindergarten is an exciting time! If your child is starting this fall, there are many things you can be doing to get them ready.

  • Preview the school – Spend some time this summer playing on the school’s playground. Visit their website with your child to view pictures and videos. If there is a preview day or back to school night, attend this as a family.
  • Read books about the start of school – This includes Kindergarten Rocks by Davis, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Slate and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.
  • Talk about your own positive early school experiences – Parents stories can go a long way towards providing a sense of comfort and excitement. Keep your stories about school upbeat during this time.
  • Get back to your bedtime routines at least a week before – Being well rested helps to provide a smooth start to the school year as a whole and to each school day. It is good to set a firm bedtime and routine for the evening and the morning. It’s best to start this at least a week prior, so it is expected once the year begins.
  • Provide and start using a calendar with them – The start of the school year is a great time to introduce the calendar and mark days off as you go. If you can, start this in Kindergarten with tracking field trips and other special events, it will be easier to use tracking tests and projects as they get into the later elementary grades.
  • Read aloud with them everyday – Reading aloud as a daily activitiy is one of the best ways to build readers. For Kindergarten, it lays foundation for phonemic awareness and builds listening skills.

>starting school

>Dear Dr. Hackney,

I need your help!!! My six year old daughter Amy is having some anxiety related to starting school soon. She has been having difficulty going to bed at night; this seems to be the only time it manifests itself. As soon as I move to leave the room, she starts fidgeting and says she needs to go to the bathroom. When we return to her room, she says she has to go again. Last night, we stopped the whole process and talked to her about what will happen the first day of school and also explained we are meeting her teacher next week. Is it too much to expect to have her get on the bus the first day? I worry that if she doesn’t do it the first day I’m setting her up to depend on me everyday. She has a very good friend who will be riding the bus with her, but I’m not sure that will be enough to motivate her. We are thinking we may look into therapy to help her deal with anxieties.

Thanks, Samantha
Mother of two, ages 3 and 6 years

Dear Samantha,

I am sorry to hear this has been hard already. My older daughter had very similar nights (and mornings) when she was a bit younger. I’m going to write about the global things first, then more practical.

Between now and the time school starts, think lots of downtime and empathy. Downtime is unscheduled, low key playtime. It is fine to have friends over and to go out, but I wouldn’t run everyone ragged in the last few days. When children are tired, their worries seem overwhelming. Downtime also lends itself to more open conversation. I would talk about school with her when she brings it up or when she seems particularly anxious – just like you did the other night – stopping everything and talking about her first day.

The empathy component is to remember that her worries are hers and they are real, and the reasoning, reassuring and logic do little to actually help. Empathy (labeling emotions, talking her through and suggesting ways to cope) allows her to own those feeling and validate them so you and she are on the same page. Empathy helps children to calm because they feel understood. So, first approach with empathy before the fix.

Prepare her as best you can, which you are already doing. Talk her through the daily schedule, and answer questions whenever needed. You might go play on the school playground or have playdates with other kids going to the same school. When you meet the teacher, you might ask if you can take a picture of her and the teacher together, and then get it printed that day, so she can have it to hold onto until school starts. You might also use the picture to make a craft project – a poster for her room or a card to give the teacher on the first day, etc. or do both with copies.

Before you meet the teacher next week, you might sit with Amy to find out if she has anything she wants the teacher to know or wants you to ask the teacher. If it were me, I’d tell her tomorrow to think about those things and then talk about it over the few days before meeting the teacher. This gives Amy a sense of control of the meeting. She has her questions answered.

Talk to her about the bus idea and how fun you remember the bus to be and games/songs you remember while riding with your friends. If another good friend rides the bus with her, maybe you all could meet 10 minutes before and board together. Maybe you could assure her that you will step on to be sure she sits with someone she knows. It is best if she can face it and get on the bus the first day but don’t be defeated if not. It may be that she takes and few days to feel confident about school and then can better face the bus. If the bus doesn’t happen the first day, I would plan a goal date that it will, such as the second day or Monday of the second week. Something realistic so it doesn’t turn into a year. Getting on with a friend might be the thing – especially if you make a date out of it.

Remember too that your attitude goes a long way, and she is reading you more than you know. If you are apprehensive and worried, the morning won’t go well; she gets that, at least to some extent. So, put on your brave face and smile through her upset. You want to send the message that the bus and school are safe and fun places, it is where she should be, and that you have no doubt she will enjoy herself and want to ride the bus everyday. If you can start to anticipate that it will all go WELL, it will go all the better.

You might check out Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step by Step Guide for Parents by Wignall, Spence, Cobham and Rapee.

Sincerely,
Rene Hackney, PhD.
Parenting Playgroups, Inc.

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