First Day of School First Day Jitters? Make It Familiar...
is the same all over the world...
Adorable little children, dressed
in their brand new school clothes, clutching Mommy or Daddy's
hand and facing the exciting and terrifying prospect of spending
a day in SCHOOL... for the very first time.
How the scene
turns out depends on everyone involved.
It can either lead to
a smiling step into the adventures of education or a terrified
child clinging desperately to the safety of familiar necks, arms
or any free body parts as a frustrated teacher tries to unwrap
the screaming bundle from parents who are feeling incredibly guilty,
embarrassed and confused.
What can you
do to make sure you get the first option and not the second? The
truth is that there are no guarantees. No matter what you do,
your child may still have a panic attack at the moment of separation.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to get all
of you ready for ahead of time... and to deal effectively with
the panic if it does happen.
The reason kids panic at leaving parents to enter a classroom
is the same reason you get butterflies when you have to go on
a first date, start a new job, or meet your future in-laws for
the first time... it IS scary. It probably goes back to the first
humans who learned that a strange environment could be dangerous
- who knew what lions and tigers and bears were hiding in unfamiliar
territory. Survival demanded that all of the senses be sharp so
dangers could be recognized - and escaped - in time.
or flight" behavior is strong. It's why there are still humans
on earth - it's a good thing. Yet, a small child recognizes the
signals as danger. The same feelings that come up when a big dog
appears or a scary stranger approaches are coming up in this situation.
Past experiences tell your child that the thing to do is get to
Mom and Dad for safety. The brighter your child is, the more likely
it is that they will make this connection. With the scary times
in the past, you've cuddled your baby and made the scary thing
disappear. This time you're trying to push your frightened baby
right into the arms of the scary stranger! What is going on?
The only way
to prevent the "fight or flight" panic response is to
make the scene familiar. Most schools will welcome visits from
parents and preschoolers in the spring before they start school.
Visit the school, meet the teacher, find out which neighborhood
kids will be in the same classroom. If you sense that one visit
hasn't helped - arrange a second or a third trip. Let your preschooler
know that their friends will be there and that they will get to
play together after they do their school work. Maybe you could
get a couple of the parents to meet you at the school for a pre-classroom
hello and a group entry into the foreign classroom. There is comfort
in company whether you are 4 or 40!
you should not do is paint a picture of school as a wonderful
paradise. The reality is that school is work for kids. It can
be fun, but it isn't a day at the beach. Don't promise that they
will learn to read or be the smartest child in the classroom.
Kids take every word you say as truth and may feel even worse
after they spend their first day sitting at a desk. There are
several books that you can share with your
children that explore the range of emotions that starting school
can bring up. Make these books part of your daytime reading with
your preschooler in the weeks before school... don't read them
right before bedtime unless you're prepared for scary dreams.
So, you've done everything right. The first day of school comes
up. There you are with your prearranged group of parents and everyone
goes off happily to the classroom... except your baby who tries,
but crumples into a mass of tears and pleading screams at the
last minute. How you react will make a difference... but be prepared
if there's nothing you can do.
not all the same. Some people react better to new situations than
others, just like some kids are better at running and others are
better at writing, the strengths and weaknesses of your child
are what defines who they are and makes them so lovable. They're
not perfect - and neither are you. The fact is that it is hard
for all of you to take this step to adulthood.
the feelings - Letting children know you understand WHY they
are scared can actually help calm them down. It's ok, it's normal.
Spend a minute validating the feelings.
support - Help them recognize and accept that they are focusing
on the scary, strange stuff and it makes sense that they are
scared. One by one introduce all of the familiar things that
are on the other side of that looming door. The teacher, who
they've met and liked, the friends who they will get to see,
the familiar books and the lunch you've packed...every little
piece of normal life that you can give them to hold on to helps
them let go of you. It may help to have a favorite stuffed animal
or a small token to hold when they start to get frightened.
Assure them that you'll be there at the end of the day to hear
all about the fun they had during the day.
If all else
fails, help the teacher to untangle you and your child without
getting upset. Very few kids stay upset once they get inside the
classroom and discover that there are really no scary monsters
lurking there. The screams normally stop as soon as you are out
of sight and they spot familiar faces in the room. Just smile
and remind yourself that parenting is not always an easy job!
Here are some book suggestions to help you get ready for the big day:
Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg, Judith Dufour Love