Helping Your Child Transition to School

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Since the first time I held my tiny, perfect little boy in my arms, I have dreaded one day that I knew would come sooner than I wanted. No, I’m not talking about the day he’ll move out of our house and go off to college. I’m talking about the first day I will have to put him on a big, yellow bus and say goodbye for an entire day!

As my baby boy has grown into a preschooler, I’ve only become more concerned about his first day of school. Since we live close to family, he has grandparents, aunts, and uncles to watch him anytime we need a babysitter. And I swear, he’s happier at my parents’ house than he is at home with us! In fact, any time he’s mad at me, he tells me he’s going to grandma’s house! And once, he even got in his Power Wheels Jeep, and started off down the driveway. Unfortunately for him (and for me), Grandma doesn’t live that close. 😉

As you can imagine, when it was time to suddenly leave him with a stranger at church for a couple hours so I could go to my class, it didn’t go very well. For months…and months…and months. In his defense, he actually transitioned after a month or two, but then our family went through a huge, emotional change, and it totally rocked our world. All of us. So when life calmed down again, we started over. (And I think we will all go through this, even if it’s just starting over because your little one is a year older and goes to a new class.) After a lot of hugs and persistence, my little boy happily started going to his own class at church, and I finally went to mine.

As we worked with him on this transition, we thought about, and talked a lot about, what we could do to make sure his transition to school would be much easier…for all of us! And I am so happy to say that, as he recently started preschool and transitioned to a new class at church, these transitions went so much better! Here are a few things that have helped us:

Start Small

We quickly realized that these transitions were difficult for our son because he hadn’t been away from us very often. And when he was, he was always with someone he is very comfortable with. We realized how important it was to give him opportunities to feel just a little bit uncomfortable, but to also make sure that he never felt unsafe or abandoned. And, to reassure him that we would always come back. So we started looking for opportunities to leave him with someone he didn’t know extremely well for short periods of time. Enroll them in an extra-curricular class like dance or t-ball, leave them with a new babysitter, or even go to a park and encourage them to play with new friends.

Get Involved

Most preschool and kindergarten teachers will have a back-to-school night or allow mom or dad to come to the first day of class for a few minutes. I think this is so important for making sure your child is comfortable and happy. Instead of just dropping him off at preschool on his first day, I tagged along so he could get to know his teacher and the other kids. I was careful to explain that I wouldn’t be coming to class with him every day, but that I would be there to pick him up after class, and that I was so excited to hear about his day. Giving him the time to warm up to his new environment and new friends made all the difference. We also try to facilitate his learning at home by practicing his letters with him and cuddling up at night to read books together.

Plan Playdates

In addition to helping him get to know his teacher and his classmates at school, we’ve also found that hosting a play date with a couple of the kids from your child’s class can help them to be more comfortable when they go to school. Our son is friends with a couple of kids in his preschool class, and they’ve come over to our house to play several times. Now when he goes to school, he knows he has a couple friends he can sit by and that he will be comfortable with.

Be Consistent

This is a message we hear all the time as parents. When it comes to bedtime routines, disciplining your child, or transitioning to school, consistency is key. Our little ones need to know what they can expect and have time to prepare. So we have established a routine of talking about preschool the night before, packing his cute Skip Hop Zoo backpack together, and always being on time to pick him up. We have definitely learned how important it is for us to be extremely consistent as we have helped our little man transition to preschool.

These are just a few of the things we’ve done to help our son’s transition to preschool be as emotion-free as possible. But I am a huge believer that parents know what is best for their children. As we’ve gone through these transitions, I asked for advice from many of the mamas in my circle. In the end, my husband and I had to decide what would work for us and for our son.

For example, when we were trying to get our son to stay in his church class, a lot of people told us to just leave him and let him cry. That eventually, he would stop crying, calm down, and be okay. But we knew this would only make the transition more traumatic for our son.

Listen to yourself and to your child, stay positive, and be consistent. And don’t give up. Because just like every other parenting experience, this too will pass. And before you know it, you’ll be on to a new adventure!

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