How to Deal with the Emotional Side of Starting Kindergarten
The big step of starting Kindergarten has so many emotions! Our babies grow so quickly! No matter how well you think you have prepared yourself or your child for their first day of school, watching them heading out that door can be hard!
This is a huge chapter for your child, whether your child has been in childcare every day for the last 3 years or has been home with you. Starting school is an adjustment for everyone. It’s the start of many first days but this one is the hardest for everyone.
Dealing With Our Own Emotions
That first day of school can be an emotional rollercoaster- whether it’s your first born or your fourth! Your baby is getting on the bus, making new friends and meeting new teachers. They will spend their day coloring, playing, learning and you’ll have very little say in their day to day. Your baby is growing up and it can trigger a lot of mixed feelings.
If you are used to having your children home with you like we were, starting school also creates some anxiety over the fact that you are no longer in ‘control’ of their everyday. Not knowing who they are playing with, the conversations they are having and the little things like bathroom breaks and how they are feeling can be a huge adjustment.
If they have been in daycare, you are probably used to getting daily reports, having smaller class sizes and knowing their little friends. School can feel bigger and scarier when you do not have the same rapport with the teacher as you did with your previous caregivers. Getting involved in the school, volunteering when possible and being part of the parent committee can help you get to know the school and staff so much better.
Understanding how they are feeling
Some children have the type of personality where big changes have little effect on them. They walk right into school on their first day and never look back. It’s amazing when your child is so confident that they can walk in and be totally comfortable but it can also be a little sad for parents as it can feel like they aren’t missing us at all. Try to remember that it really is a good thing and instead pat yourself on the back and enjoy the feeling of a parenting win. 🙂
For some children though, starting school can feel traumatic. It’s scary, it’s big, there are tons of children running everywhere and everyone seems to know exactly what they are supposed to do. It can feel overwhelming and very stressful. Even if your child has been in care leading up to the start of school, starting school can be the cause of anxiety and stress. Like all of us, every child is different and handles change differently.
Possible side effects of starting Kindergarten:
Starting school can be filled with so many emotions for everyone, more than we even realize. It’s exciting and stressful and scary! It’s the thing nightmares are made of. It can also be so much fun! The lifelong friends they will make, the teachers they will love and the fun they will have will more than make up for the anxiety of the first few weeks.
- Some children will regress in skills at which they are already proficient.
- Some may withdraw and seem to become a shell of their former selves.
- Others may become aggressive or become more emotional with more upset than usual.
Temper tantrums, bathroom accidents, hitting, biting, seeming angry or quick to cry are all behaviors that are driven by emotions. Starting school can be so overwhelming for some children that you may see behaviors you thought you were done with.
What can you do to ease the anxiety of starting Kindergarten?
- Allow your child time to talk, whether in bed during the bedtime routine or right after school when they get off the bus. If you have the opportunity to walk or drive your child home from school, this can be a great time to chat.
- Follow their lead and don’t force the conversation. This can cause them to shut down. Some children may not want to talk right after school while others will. Some will need extra time in their bedtime routine to snuggle and chat. Others will talk your ear off from the moment they get off the bus until they fall asleep.
- Give them your full attention. This can be difficult if you have more than one child, but giving each child time to express their feelings and having the opportunity to talk without interruption, with your full attention and without limitations will help your child more than you can imagine. Set aside time each day for this- even if it’s only 5-10 minutes a day.
What can you do to help them adjust?
We always want our children to adjust quickly to changes and excel at everything they do but it’s just not realistic. Children need time to adjust-some need more time than others. Helping them through by providing the emotional support needed might be all they need.
Along with allowing your child to talk about their day here are a few simple things you can do to help them through their day when you are not around and again at the end of the day:
- One of our favorite tricks is to cut out little heart shapes and write I love you on them and put them in their pocket in the morning so that when they are missing you they can rub the heart between their fingers.
- Read The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn with your child- such a sweet idea they can take with them anywhere they go.
- Include a special notes or stickers in their lunch bag
- Send them to school with a picture of you so that they can look at it when they miss you; or have them draw a picture if they like
- Learn some of the children’s names from their class, this will help them remember classmate’s names too which may help their confidence being around those new kids
- Spend time on homework: help them with some of the new concepts they are learning even if they don’t get any assigned work
- Have dinner ready for the first few weeks will really allow you to focus on having some good quality downtime together to connect before bed. Make a menu plan (& remember to take those ingredients out of the freezer the night before) or do some meal prep (ie: freezer meals or weekly meal prep). Whatever works for you.
- Make an appointment with an optometrist: getting their eyesight checked can help prevent issues with learning as this is often when you find out they need glasses because they can’t see the blackboard. Also, some children who ‘don’t want to learn’ may just be an issue of them not being able to see the words properly
- Ensure they are getting enough sleep! They are going to be exhausted their first few weeks. Even if your child was in care previously, this is a whole new ballgame. It will really help the transition go a lot smoother if your child is well rested. Making sure they are still getting 11-12 hours of sleep every night can really ensure they are ready to learn and can help them cope with their emotions.
The best way to help your child is to be there for them! A child who has your support, is well rested and well fed will be ready to take on the challenges of their new adventures starting Kindergarten!
If you find yourself needing more support, join our Facebook group where you can get advice and support from other parents. We also offer our Sleep Programs should you find yourself dealing with sleep issues. Check out our services page for more info.