By Riikka Melartin, Psy.D.
School is starting soon, and whether your child is attending for the first time, returning to a familiar school, or starting a new one, the transition can be challenging. For any of these scenarios, previewing can make a big difference. In fact, many schools have events for kindergarten families before school starts, to help children and parents connect, sometimes on the school grounds. Other schools may have the kindergarten teacher meet the student at home, or have a visiting day for their room before the official start of classes. If these types of opportunities are not in place, you can foster a sense of familiarity yourself:
If your child has special needs that make transitions or novelty particularly difficult, you may be able to schedule a visit to the classroom before the first day as the staff generally goes back to school several days before the children, to set up rooms and hold planning meetings. In many schools, administrators work in the building for much of the summer and might be available to show you around. If your child has any other learning or medical needs, make sure the staff knows ahead of time, so they can deal with them helpfully and sensitively right from the start.
Once classes begin, it is helpful to preview routines for the first few days: who drops her off, how does lunch work, what time is school over, and what he will do afterwards. And, though this may seem obvious, make sure you get to school on time. Coming in when other children are already settled in, and all eyes turn to you, can make any child feel out of place and uncomfortable.
Finally, help your child process the experience by asking specific questions instead of “how was school today?” Ask if they have used the water fountain yet, what their favorite nook in the class-room is, or what their favorite and least favorite part of the day was. You might make a game of it, for example asking them to say hello to one new child that day and telling you about the student later.
Remember, novelty is tiring—there is a lot to take in, and excitement or nerves also sap energy. Thus, allow for plenty of down time the first week, for your child to relax and process the new environment and expectations. Sleep is key now and before school starts for your child’s energy and mood. If your child has been able to sleep in during the summer, shift them into their new wake up time at least several days before the first day of school. Make sure bedtimes are adhered to at least in the first weeks. Last but not least—give yourself some extra care as a parent during this transition as well!
Riikka Melartin, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who provides individual therapy, counseling, and consultation for clients who are diverse in age, ethnicity, and sexual orientation. Until recently, she also worked as a school psychologist.
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