My husband still gets weak in the knees when we reminisce about dropping our young son off at school. Our little guy would stand at the window and wave with one hand and blow kisses with the other—often with tears in his eyes. It was hard on all of us, and it went on for years. So I’m not sure I can describe myself as an ‘expert parent’ at separating from my son in his early years, but as a teacher I’ve learned some helpful tips for successfully saying good bye to your little one at the start of the new school year.
• As much as you can, familiarize your child with the new school environment and personnel. If your child’s school offers the opportunity to meet the teacher or view the classroom, make sure to take advantage. If visiting the school is difficult, try to arrange playdates with future classmates or give your child the opportunity to play on the school playground.
• Remember that your child is aware of and sensitive to how you’re feeling so if you’re anxious or upset about the transition, she’s probably going to feel that way too. Be aware of how you’re feeling about your child’s transition and do your best to talk about it with others when your child is out of earshot. Convey optimism and positivity when you’re with your child.
• I’ve never met a teacher who didn’t believe that once it’s time to say good bye, it’s important for parents to just go. Say good bye to your child and leave. It’s so tempting for parents to turn around and go back to the child if she cries, but that not only prolongs the problem but reinforces the crying behavior. Almost invariably, children stop crying pretty quickly, and teachers are there to comfort them when they’re upset. By leaving your child after you say good bye, you are sending the message to your child that you are confident she’ll be ok. Conveying that confidence is the first step to your child making confident separations each morning.
• Talk through the separation process with your child before you get to school. Let your child know that you are confident she’ll have a successful start to the day and explain how you’ll say good bye. Describe where you’ll be dropping her off and that when it’s time for you to go, you’ll give her a big hug and then go. Being clear about the plan will help alleviate anxiety.
• Let your child know where you’ll meet her at the end of the day, so she knows exactly what to expect at dismissal. Be sure to keep your promise.
• For children (like my son) who have a bit more difficulty separating, try:
giving your child something to keep for the day, such as your scarf or your key chain (keep the keys!) that she associates with you and will remind her of you and your promise that you’ll see her at the end of the day to retrieve it.
using a “waving window” where your child can stand and wave good bye to you as you leave the school building.
asking the teacher if there’s time for your child to draw a picture for you during the day.
There’s no question that separations at the start of the school year are not always easy. And it’s not even easy to predict who is going to have difficulty and who is going to transition well. Sometimes there’s even a honeymoon period for a child and the difficult period of separation doesn’t start for a few days or weeks into the school year. Remember that a young child’s perception of the beginning of the school year can be quite different from an adult’s. Sometimes a kindergartner can enjoy the “first day of school” and then be surprised by having to go back the next day—not realizing that school isn’t a onetime event! Conveying optimism and confidence in your child’s success at school is a great way to support her positive transition on those bittersweet first days.