If the very thought of her first day of kindergarten makes you a little nervous (or a little teary-eyed) you’re not alone. This is a major transition! Even if your daughter has already attended preschool or another pre-k program, the instruction she’s about to begin will tend to be a bit more formal and often has more hours of instruction during the day. Kindergarten is kind of a big kid thing—which can be hard for both your child and you to adjust to.
To really set your soon-to-be kindergartener up for success, you’re going to have to check your anxiety at the door. That’s right, we said your anxiety. The thing is, children, especially very young ones, take emotional cues from their parents—and they can read anxiety clearer than anything. If you’re positive, optimistic, and excited for all the experiences your daughter will have when she starts school, chances are, she’ll approach her first day with the same sunny outlook. Meanwhile, if you tell her not to worry, or that it won’t be so scary before she even hints that she’s feeling apprehension—she’ll wonder what there is she should worry about or be frightened by. Basically, those kinds of statements put ideas into kids’ heads that they simply might not have otherwise.
Instead, try to tell your girl about activities she’ll have the opportunity to be involved in or the things she’ll have access to in kindergarten that you think she’ll like or be interested in. If she loves storytime, let her know there’s likely to be new books for her to discover in kindergarten, and that the teacher may read to the class. If she’s a natural at making friends, talk to her about all the new kids she’ll meet and get to learn with.
Listen To Her Feelings
But also ask her how she feels about starting kindergarten. Let her lead the conversation, and really listen to what she has to say. If she does express that she’s nervous, sad, or scared, take those concerns to heart and explore those feelings with your daughter. Let her know that changes to our routine can make any of us feel a little uncertain, and reassure her that you’re going to do everything you can to prepare her for this big step in her life. If it meets social distancing recommendations near you and you can do it safely, set up a playdate with another child in your neighborhood who is currently in kindergarten or in the early grades of elementary school so she can ask questions and hopefully put her worries to rest.
Give Her a Roadmap
Make sure she understands her new schedule a few weeks before school starts, so she’ll have an idea of who will drop her off in the morning and who will pick her up if she's attending school in person. If possible, take a dry-run to her new school one morning so she knows exactly where you’ll be taking her, and where she’ll be spending her morning and afternoon. And if your girl will be distance-learning, set up a special place in your home where she'll have school time each day, and make sure she's comfortable with whichever devices she may be using.
Keep Goodbyes Quick
On the big day, if you're walking her into school to meet her teacher, say a quick goodbye, and then—even if it’s hard for you, and it may be!—resist the urge to linger. Sticking around might seem like it would be helpful, especially if your girl is crying or seems afraid, but it can actually prolongs your daughter’s anxiety and make the buildup to you leaving even more upsetting. Instead, tell her how proud you are of her, give her a kiss, and get on your way. Your child’s teacher can take it from there, helping her to get accustomed to her new environment and find joy in her new activities and friends. And if she's learning at home? Make sure she knows you're there to help if she really needs it, but resist the urge to sit in on the virtual classroom unless her teacher asks you to. Of course, it's tempting to be a part of the songs and learning from start to finish, but giving her some space (even if she says she doesn't want it!) will go a long way in helping her become an independent, resilient student.
Her teacher might not have put these on the list, but she absolutely needs them.
Being reserved or shy shouldn’t stop your girl from having a fun social life!