In a Nutshell: Here’s a couple of tips that may help reduce the drama as homebodies go to school.
A decade ago, my first child walked into his Kindergarten classroom with a nonchalant “Bye, Mom” and a quick wave. I was the one biting my lip until I could sob in the privacy of my car. Other partings have been a little more…well…let’s just say it’s a shame Kindergarteners can’t register for classes in the drama department. I’ve had one kid who would become near-hysterical, and another who would cry so pathetically in the back of the car that I felt I was sending him in to be eaten by wolves. I’ve decided there is a very elite club of Those-Who-Do-Not-Go. You didn’t do anything wrong if you have one–I’m convinced some kids come out of the womb as card-carrying members. If you happen to be parenting a member of this club, here are a couple tips that may help get them through that door.
1) Watch your own emotions.
Having already admitted that I cry when my kids go to school, the first suggestion is to mind your own emotions. Parents are powerful social transmitters of emotion to their children, and kids often look to us to see when they should be anxious, excited, or scared. Be careful about saying things like, “What am I going to do without you?” or “I’m going to miss you so much!” A child may internalize that you won’t be okay without them. Be cheerful, upbeat, relaxed, and excited for your child’s new experience…and save your tears for the car.
2) Talk it out.
Don’t fall in the “suck it up” trap. School is a big step for shy kids, and they are having very real emotions even if it doesn’t make sense to us. Talk through their concerns. Maybe they are worried about using the bathroom at school, or they may be concerned that you won’t be there to pick them up on time. Take time to dig a bit. Sometimes children just need to verbalize their fears and get reassurance.
3) Practice, Practice, Practice
Consider practicing saying goodbye. This may seem silly but it is a winner for kids who do fine once you are gone, but have a hard time separating. When one of mine was refusing to get out of the car at the drop-off, we drove back to school later that evening. We had decided that big boys who go to school deserve a Chuck-E-Cheese token each morning. I had already picked up the tokens, and told him when he had 5, we could go play. We practiced giving one hug and two kisses (what he decided he needed) and saying goodbye. He walked to the school doors and waved. At home, I pretended to give him the token. If there was a day we had a scene at the drop-off, I took him back later that evening to practice again. It was a rough for a few days, but he never had another hard separation after that first trip to Chuck-E-Cheese.
4) Enlist help.
To solve my daughter’s shyness, it took a nice helper at the school who offered to walk her to her classroom. My son had a sweet guidance counselor at his school that let him come visit her in her office first, before going on to his classroom. If you communicate the problem to your child’s teacher, they may have a special job your child can help with before the other kids come in from the playground, or another great idea to help your child transition more easily. I promise–they’ve seen it before.
5) Be creative!
Whether it is Chuck-E-Cheese tokens, hair bows, a special lovey tucked in their backpack, extra kisses to save for later, or a heart in their lunch, you can find something that will work for your child. Brainstorm with your spouse, ask friends, or ask your child. He may have a great idea.
As I write this, my now 12-year-old is standing by me, laughing at our recollections of his oh-so-sad Kindergarten self. He said that he kept, and still has, one of those Chuck-E-Cheese tokens from his Kindergarten year. So, if your mornings are spent prying a little one off your leg at the classroom door, don’t worry too much. I have it on good authority that your little homebody is probably going to turn out to be one marvelous kid.
What have you done to help children adjust to school?
Here is a little poem I wrote a few years back as I was feeling sentimental about sending off of my Emma for her first day of school.
One Week Before Kindergarten
By: Alison Moulton
I see you from the window
As I do dishes
Sunshine soaking your hair
Mud soaking your dress
As you pet the cat and eat garden peas.
Again and again
For an hour or more.
You know your letters
And how to write your name.
You know what to do if someone tries
To take your lunch
Or pull you from a swing.
We’ve practiced all this.
But bells will soon ring
And lines will form.
You will try to find your place
And kids will laugh and cut
Before the teacher sees.
So stay outside, love,
Soak up another hour of light
Cross-contaminate your little hands
With peas and cat hair.
The sanitizer dispenser
Will be posted
By your classroom door