Although in this post, you get to see some of the beautiful, smiling faces from our very first day of school for the 2022-23 school year, if your child’s first day of school was met with tears and heart-wrenching cries, keep reading! Some children love going to school, but it’s normal that most children are reluctant or emotional when it comes to staying in a new environment without mom and dad. So, how can parents best prepare their child for a confident drop off?
2. Prepare your child before and after school
Talk about school in a matter-of-fact, positive light. You can explain the morning routine (who will drop off, who will pick up, what time), talk about the activities they will be able to do at school, talk about their school day schedule, talk about their teacher and friends by name, remind them that you will always be back to pick them up, and tell them that you love hearing about their day at school!
3. Slow down
Give you and your child ample time in the mornings to get ready at a slow pace. When we rush and push our child through the morning routine, we contribute to their stress and anxiety. Build in “connection” moments throughout the morning – hugs, conversation over a bowl of cereal, meeting your child’s eyes, etc.
4. Create a reassuring drop off routine
Drop off your child on time (8:30am for Children’s House students). This will help your child quickly settle into the morning routine at school.
When you drop off your child at school, remember to model the confidence you want your child to have. A short but sweet drop off routine is best, even when your child is emotional. A lingering parent will unconsciously contribute to their child’s anxiety, instead of alleviating it.
You also should not “drop and run” or disappear without saying a word. Your child’s anxiety will skyrocket when they realize you are nowhere to be found and they do not understand where you have gone, nor have the assurance that you will come back for them.
If your child is clinging to you, never be afraid to ask a teacher to come and hold him while you leave.
Do NOT be dismissive when your child has big emotions. Don’t say things such as, “Stop crying.” Instead, you can acknowledge their feelings while offering reassurance. “I can see you sad, but I know you will have so much fun today. I love you, and I’ll see you soon!” Now, if you feel sad, don’t show it until you’re in your car! A distressed parent will only amplify the child’s anxiety.
A short, sweet, confident goodbye is best. “I love you, and I’ll see you later today.” “I’ll be back to pick you up after nap time!” “See you soon!” You can even do a funny goodbye song, or goodbye handshake!
5. Consider shorter days during the adjustment period
If you have the flexibility, consider having your child start school or childcare with shorter days, then gradually push back your pickup time.
Likewise, try to be a little early to pick him up during his adjustment period – if your child watches many parents come and go, and is one of the last to be picked up, it can cause him to worry, “Are my parents coming?”
6. Send a comfort object to snuggle with at nap/rest time
Our toddler and Children’s House community students bring a lovie or comfort object (blanket or soft toy) to school, and they look forward to cuddling with it at nap time. Children’s House students may also enjoy bringing a non-toxic plant, which they can look forward to caring for every day, or perhaps a wooden object (for wood polishing activity) or a bronze/metal object (for metal polishing activity)
Infant community children cannot have objects in their crib, but if there is a special blanket or lovie that they would like to hold during play time or cuddle time, you are welcome to send it.
7. Expect regression after holidays/absences/life changes
It’s important that your child regularly attend school/child care. Little ones thrive on routine! However, we know that life can happen – when returning from holidays or lengthy absences, be aware that your child may need to restart the adjustment period.
New baby? Parent traveling for work? New home? Loss of a loved one? Or pet? All of these things may cause a child to regress, and become emotional during drop off time. Be patient and understand that it is a season that your child will adjust to with time. Speak to your child’s teacher about your life change so that they can provide necessary support in the classroom.
8. Choose a consistent and frequent attendance schedule
If your child is on a part time attendance schedule, such as two days per week, it may not be consistent enough to help them acclimate. Consider increasing the number of days to help them through the adjustment period. We recommend no less than a 3 half-day program.
9. Stay active
A little fresh air and a little outdoor activity can go a long way to contributing to your child’s sense of wellbeing. Make time to bring your little one outdoors, perhaps 15 minutes before dinner, or a short walk or visit to the playground. Bonus: this can also help them sleep better at night!
10. Good mood foods & hydration
Nourishing foods can help a child’s anxiety. Consider adding foods such as: Omega-3 rich foods, high fiber fruits (such as berries, bananas, avocado, figs, dates, pomegranates), Chia seeds, protein-rich Greek yogurt, dark chocolate, oats, beans/legumes, veggies (cucumbers, carrots, dark greens) and more. Speak to your child’s physician or a nutritionist for recommendations.
Avoid processed foods which may be high in sugar and sodium content, as well as beverages (including 100% juice – opt for whole fruits instead).
Make sure your child stays hydrated!
11. Stay connected
Spend quality time as a family, as well as some one-on-one time with your child. It doesn’t have to be hours long, but minutes spent here and there build lasting connections. Try to have 12 physical connections a day (cuddles, hugs, high fives, back pats, etc.), play with your child, put your screen away during dinner, look your child in the eyes, ask them questions, slow down and follow your child, listen to what they are saying and ask them questions in response, create a bedtime routine (story time).
12. Introduce new environments and experiences
If your child struggles with new experiences, be intentional to build in a limited number of new experiences: a new playground, a play date with a new friend, story time at the library, for example – situations where he can watch from the sidelines, or take that first step. These experiences will help him build confidence. Once he gets comfortable, consider enrolling him in group classes, where he can encounter new faces and new situations in a more structured setting.
13. Managing parent anxiety
Sometimes, the parent is more anxious than the child! Saying goodbye to your child can be very difficult, but remember to stay positive. Do not feel guilty about leaving your child. The experience is necessary for your child to spread their wings, and it will be the first of many steps towards their journey of independence!
On the other hand, sometimes parents are ready for this season of life, and they may grow frustrated or impatient. Remind yourself that tearful goodbyes are to be expected and that it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your child. Do not yell at your child or tell them to “stop crying” or ask them, “Why do you always do this?” Instead, keep your goodbyes short and sweet and know that over time, your child will grow in confidence. Remember to stay positive about your child’s experience at school and the drop off/transition times.
As always, if you’re concerned about your child’s ability to adjust, you can talk to your child’s physician or a therapist for more advice.
If your child is struggling after a month or so, be sure to talk to your child’s teacher so that they can work with you to support your child’s needs. And remember that each child is unique – some children have taken several months to adjust before they suddenly bloom with enthusiasm and love for their school!