Back to school can be a stressful time for everyone – but for first-time students, the thought of leaving the comfort of home to attend kindergarten can be overwhelming.
“The fear of the unknown is usually what pops up, initially – who will my friends be in my class, who is my teacher going to be?” said Barb Gross, family resource manager with North Rocky View Community Links. “Once they’re there, they usually adjust quickly.”
While many children will express these anxieties on their own and ask questions to ease their curiosity, Gross said, parents should be on the lookout for less obvious signs their child is struggling with the transition.
“Maybe he’s having trouble sleeping at night, or he’s not eating the way he typically was,” she said. “Maybe he’s just showing those end-of-summer blues.”
If a child is having trouble with the impending adjustment, according to Gross, it’s important for parents to take those feelings seriously. For any child, she said, the best thing a parent can do is validate those anxieties and emotions – and then implement an action plan to address them.
“You need to start at home,” Gross said. “Already, they should be starting to get into a routine – both a bedtime routine and a morning routine. This way, the kid knows what to expect, what is predictable. Kids thrive with predictability.”
While parents may be lax about bedtimes throughout the summer, Gross said, younger children need around 10 hours of sleep. This should be introduced well before school starts up, she said, to get kids in the habit.
“It also makes it easier to practice the morning routine – what is it going to look like when you get up for school?” she said. “We should be planning what lunches might look like, how you lay out your clothes for the next day. The more you can do the night before, the easier and less rushed the mornings are going to be.”
After-school care should also be established in advance, according to Gross. If children are going to daycare or getting picked up by another family member, it’s important to go through that routine ahead of time so the child knows exactly what to expect once they start school.
Another tactic Gross suggests to keep back-to-school time as stress-free as possible is limiting the number of after-school activities kids are involved in. Not only does this help them focus on adjusting to their new school routine, she said, it also helps mom and dad save money during a time that can often break the bank.
“This is a time for you to try and get organized – and to do it as a family,” she said. “That way, everybody is on the same page about when we turn the TV off at night, when we do our homework or study.”
And while the prospect of starting kindergarten can be intimidating for little ones, Gross said, it’s often parents who experience the most separation anxiety. For caregivers who might be struggling with this, she said, it’s important to put on a brave face so your child can head into the classroom with confidence.
She also suggests parents contact the school and meet with teachers to put their own concerns to rest and ensure their child’s educational years get off to a positive start – for everyone’s benefit.
“Even though you’re excited for them, that’s still your baby going off to school,” Gross said. “Many, many, many parents sit outside the school after they drop off their little one and cry in their cars. And that’s OK.”