First Day Jitters
How do I stop my baby from having anxiety on the first day of Nursery school or Kindergarten?
There may be nothing you can do to stop this totally natural survival and growth mechanism from taking place. Yes, some children run into class on their first day of school without looking back or even a wave goodbye. Others cry for a day or two and yet others take a week or two. There are even children who take a month or more to get over their anxiety of separating from a caregiver or getting used to a new environment.
While you may see your child cry during drop-off and pick-up times for a number of days, weeks or more, most of this anxiety lasts only a short time in the classroom on any given day, once the caregiver has left. Of course the dynamics between the quality of teachers, program, and facility of your child’s new school plays a big part in helping him/her to become more comfortable, independent and confident. The question though is what can you do to help. So, here are some suggestions that may help minimize, alleviate or, by some miracle, eradicate the natural responses that you and your child will inevitably confront as you approach the milestone that is the first day of school.
Providing opportunities for children to make sense of the word around them is an important part of teaching and parenting. Young children will learn, sooner or later, that when something is out of sight, it is not necessarily gone forever. You can help your child with this concept (and their first day of school) by providing them opportunities to experience you going away and coming back again. You can do this several times, at varying intervals and with different people that you trust between now and your child’s first day. When setting up these opportunities, you should leave your child in a safe environment with somebody that you trust. Use some predetermined phrases that you will continue to use each time that you plan on going away and coming back. These will be the same phrases that you can mention to your child prior to abandoning J him/her with the teacher on the first day of school. For example, if you are going to the market or out to dinner, leave your child with someone that fits the criteria above, hug your child and say something like, “Have fun, we will be back soon.” Then leave! If your child cries and screams, it is okay. Leave! Do not inadvertently teach your child something unintended by staying longer when your child cries, or worse, abandon providing this opportunity by taking your child with you. The same goes for the first day of school. When it is time for you to go, give your child a hug and say, “Have fun, we will be back soon.” You know what to do next. I have seen parents/caregivers stay in school for ages if the child cries or holds on for dear life. Guess how long it will take for this child to overcome their challenge. I have seen parents take their child away and say, “we will try again tomorrow.” No guessing necessary.
You can also play a game of pretend school with your child. You can do this at varying levels. For example, you can use your future teacher’s name while pretending or you can make your pretend session more real by arranging a play date with a classmate and you can pretend together. You can even use this opportunity to practise your goodbye routine. You can add a bit of humor by peeking from behind a door during your pretend play and saying, “Have fun, I will be back soon.” Close the door and open it immediately, and say it again, “Have fun, I will be back soon.” If you do this in a silly rapid and playful way, apart from having fun, you may even help the children associate pleasure with your goodbye routine.
Before sharing these ideas with you, I did what I imagine many of you will do or already have done. I consulted Google. There were many ideas for preparing children for their first day of school. Among them were reading books to your child about going to school, touring the school and meeting the teachers before the first day, begin talking about going to school a few weeks before, joining a summer program at the school your child will attend if it is available, let your child help prepare their materials with you or pick out their school clothes the evening before, have a good sleep the night before, eat a good breakfast in the morning, label your child’s personal belongings and arrive at school on time for drop-off and pick-up.
As in most things, there is a balance between how much you can do to “prepare” your child with overdoing it and actually contributing to the anxiety. If your focus is on thinking of ways to help you and your child associate pleasure and comfort with going to school, you have a better chance of achieving that end.
Some final words from experience, please keep in mind that while preparing your child for their first day of school, there are things that you can do to help, as stated above, but it is very likely that your child will have to go through the experience at their own pace, on their way to comfort, independence and confidence. Share your special phrase with your child’s teacher so she can use it to help comfort your child after you have left. The second day is often more traumatic than the first, as the child now knows that you will not accompany him/her. You should know that a majority of the tears are reserved for you and that once you have left, your child will settle down. This implies that the sooner you leave after giving a hug and saying, “have fun, I will be back soon,” the faster your child will begin to make sense of their new world.
Written by The Creative Director from Tutor Time International Nursery & Kindergarten