Whether it is facing the very first day of school for a five year old, attending a new school, or just facing getting back into the school mode, transitions are worth noticing. With a little positive support and encouragement, children will face these transitions and adjust quickly to their new environments. A few hints will make this an easier process for both guardian, grandparent or child.
Really listening may help a child feel more secure
First, always lend a listening ear. Get involved with active listening; try to hear what is being said beyond the content of the words. Is your child frightened, insecure, or worried? If so, an occasional word or two might elicit more information. If a child states, "I do not want to go (back) to school," an acknowledgment might help more than a question. "You really do not want to go (back) to school; it sounds like you just want summer to go on and on." Sometimes the child will then state they do want to go but this or that about it is troubling them; other children might give more information, such as "Yes, because then I would not have to face (enter child's name) who always chases me." When the child feels you are listening and understanding, quite often they will resolve the problem themselves. "I do not like Room 6; I like Room 2 better. I want to stay in Room 2." This type of response tells you the child wants to return to the familiar, something most of us are able to understand.
Talk about the pending transition beforehand
Help your child prepare for the transition by talking about it a week or two beforehand. "School starts in two weeks!" said in a positive manner will alert the child to the pending transition. Keep it positive by shopping for something the child can select, such as a new backpack or lunch pack if the budget permits. If not, help your child select what they will wear. (You may want to select two or three outfits that are appropriate and then let the child pick between them if the child is very young.)
Visit the school before school starts
Many schools have registration or open house before school or preschool begins. If at all possible, attend these events with your child. If your child is new to the school, allow time to walk around and help him or her feel comfortable in the surroundings. Our local preschool offers cookies and juice as well as a decorate-you-own book bag event to help the kids look forward to the beginning of the school year. The parents and children meet the new teacher while upcoming events and activities are profiled. Walking around the room and school helps little ones mentally prepare for leaving home during the day and feeling comfortable with their new daytime environment.
Check your own anxiety
Make certain your own concerns about the transition are not too apparent to your child. If you appear relaxed and confident about the experience, it will help your child feel confident, too. You may even want to practice saying goodbye beforehand, so that your child knows what to expect. Let your child know that you need to say goodbye quickly; lingering may serve to further cause your child to be anxious. Look to the child's teacher for guidance. They have dealt with these issues before and will usually give you the nod to go that first morning. Some teachers may ask your child to come to the table and begin an activity. Once the parent or grandparent is out of sight, the child usually transitions quickly to group activities and the new environment.
Acknowledge a successful transition
At the end of the day, acknowledge that your child has achieved another landmark in development - they made it through their first day of school! Let them know you are proud of them. If they struggled with the goodbye in the morning, reaffirm that it will be a quick goodbye again tomorrow. Listen carefully once again, this time about their feelings concerning their day at school. Keep it positive, and your child is sure to develop a positive and accepting attitude towards attending school.