By Loren Walsh, MA
Child and Family Therapist
Jewish Community Services
If you have a child about to go off to kindergarten, you can probably relate to parent Alison Dodge’s reflections on this turning point: “Starting kindergarten can be an exciting but anxiety provoking time for both children and parents. For me, as my oldest daughter prepares to start kindergarten, it’s bittersweet. How can it have been over five years ago when she was born, and how can this day have come so soon?!
Like it or not, no matter what our children have done up until now – whether they’ve been home with a parent, or in full or part-time preschool – they are about to embark on a major milestone which begins the start of their academic lives. There’s no turning back now! I sense that children about to enter kindergarten are dealing with a mixed bag of emotions, as well. On one hand, there’s the thrill of being an official “big kid,” and joining the ranks of elementary school age siblings, friend and neighbors.
However, some children have real apprehension about starting school. My daughter is now old enough to truly understand what beginning kindergarten means – that she’ll be going to school EVERY DAY (for the rest of the foreseeable future). She’s feeling anxious, as am I, as the summer days pass and the start of school grows closer.”
It is normal for children to feel anxious during this adjustment period. Here are some helpful suggestions for all of us on easing into this major transition:
• Spend as much time at the new school with your child as they will allow. Play on the playground, roam the halls, visit the cafeteria and use the bathrooms. Stop in the classroom and try to meet the teacher. Perhaps even find out where your child will be sitting. This will help him or her acclimate to the classroom.
• Ask for a class list, and see if your child may know anyone. It is usually comforting for a child to be familiar with someone else in the class when they arrive. If your child does not know anyone, try to set up a play date ahead of time so the children can get acquainted.
• Encourage the practice of self-help skills: dressing, undressing, hand washing, toileting and putting away toys.
• Go to your local library and check out a few books on going to school, such as “Amelia Bedelia’s First Day of School” or “The Berenstain Bears Go to School.”
• Practice drop off and pick up routine. A lot of a child’s anxiety surrounds whether or not the parents will be where they are supposed to be when the child needs to be picked up. Make sure your child knows exactly where you will be every day at dismissal time, and discuss the details
• Practice the new morning routine for at least a week in advance. Wake up, get dressed, eat breakfast, etc. and be out the door by a set time. Practice the afternoon and evening routine as well – pick up time/place, dinner, bath, bedtime, etc. Most children thrive with structure. It gives them a sense of security.
• Pack your child’s backpack and make lunch the night before. If your child is willing, involve him or her in choosing the lunch menu and putting things in the backpack. You might want to tuck in a little note or treat as a surprise.
• Get up a little earlier on the first day of school to give yourself and your child extra time so no one ends up feeling rushed. Try out some of this advice to ease the way, both for parents and children, as we edge closer to the first day of school.
To help navigate the challenges of parenting, join other parents for the free monthly Parent Discussion Series offered by Jewish Community Services and the Jewish Community Center. Discussions are held from 6:00 – 7:30 p.m., at Jewish Community Services in Owings Mills, 3506 Gwynnbrook Avenue. Topics span the cycle of raising children from infancy through young adulthood. Upcoming sessions are: “Help! My Child is Being Bullied,” September 10, with Susan Kurlander, M.Ed., and “Grandparents Raising Grandchildren,” October 22, with Janet Kurland, LCSW-C. For more information, contact Loren Walsh, firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-843-7568, or visit www.jcsbaltimore.org/parenting.