Starting kindergarten or school: tips for supporting your child

A big change on the horizon! It is natural to be nervous about it. As we as parents are deeply connected to our kids, they may feel anxious, too.

Anything we can do to feel more prepared?

How to help kids adjust?

Your kid is starting school and the struggles are real, the anxieties run high. Starting daycare or kindergarten- these are challenging times for the little ones and the whole family! Check the tips below and see which ones can help you have a smoother transition!

Every kid is different!

We have heard that countless times! We do want to meet our kids where they are. But more often we feel pressured and we just want to get things done and tasks- ticked off. It is so easy to forget that our kids grow at their own pace, they experience the world around them in their own way. All they need from us is to show up and try to meet their individual needs.

So when it comes to such a big change like starting school- not only separating from us but being thrown into a brand new unknown environment- each and every kid will need a different kind of support. Some of the suggestions here may be a great fit, others may not work at all for your child.

Here are some tips, ideas and strategies to try out and see what works for you and your child:

  • Keep an open mind, stay positive, focus on growth– prepare mentally that there may be tears, uncomfortable feelings, anxiety, doubts, guilt. How many times do we ask ourselves, “Am I doing the best for my kid?”.
    • Mentally prepare that most probably there will be daily challenges. At the same time, do not fear them- you panicking is not going to help anyone, is it. Allow space for anything that comes along! Remind yourself that it is a part of your learning and growth.
  • Be kind to yourself – notice what you are feeling, identify your feelings and accept your own challenges.
    • You will try things, some may work, other will not. Occasionally, you might feel drained, speechless, powerless and short of patience. It is ok, you are human. Try not to forget that you are doing your best.
  • Be extra kind to your kid– keep reminding yourself that
    • they are learning, just like you are still learning
    • everyone needs time
    • they are not making your life harder, but they are having a hard time
    • then offer your support, love and acceptance
  • Try to prepare ahead of time– read books about starting kindergarten; visit the school you have chosen for them and if possible, go inside, take a walk and explain what is what; talk about some of the routines- changing clothes, having meals together with classmates, washing hands, going to the toilet etc. You know your child best- what they like and disike, or what they are fearful of. Talk about expectations and help them get excited about the fun stuff- singing, playing, making crafts with friends, playing in the garden, exploring, reading books etc.
    • Role play- use books, stories, cards, puppets. For some kids, that easily get nervous or fearful, like my son, role playing can help with their anxiety. We tried practicing at home to say hello, to ask questions etc.
  • Draw their dayuse simple drawings on paper or use a white board to help your children visualize their new schedule. My drawing skills are close to zero but many times some markers and a whilte board has kept my kids engaged and helped my family open up important discussions. Present the routines, include the preparation time at home, the way to school, the routines there, then coming back home and what happens afterwards.
    • What I found extremely helpful for both me and my boy was the realization that school takes just a part of our day but it is not all. We still spend a ot of time together- sharing meals, relaxing, exploring together, playing, reading, bathing etc. It really helped my preschooler feel confident that he still has time to do fun stuff at home with all of us.
    • Help them explore what they like and dislike doing- at home or at kindy there will be things they love doing and others that are more challenging. Try using this set of printables My precious hands help me understand what I like and dislike and use hands to help them be more aware of their own preference. Make it easier to talk about challenges and how to overcome them.
  • Let them make choices– incude your child in the preparations for school by choosing together their supplies, clothes, bags etc. Depending on their age, encourage them to get ready by themselves in the morning- packing their bags, choosing their clothes, the cup or towel they bring to school etc. A magnetic board or a chart, sticker books may help to make daily preparations more engaging and fun. Start small first, and add more tasks and responsibilities as you all get more settled into your new routine.
    • The mistake I made was to pack our morning from the go- too many activities and responsibiities proved to be overwheming for everyone. It resulted in me getting easily upset and my three-year-old- confused. I had to take a step back and observe. Then I was able to give him a few tasks that he could handle, the meltdowns slowly vanished.
  • Look at your routines, especially your morning and evening routine. If possible, make sure you all have some extra time in the morning to reduce some of the pressure. In the beginning, getting everyone ready earlier tremendously helps. Allowing some more time makes it easier to transition from being home to going to school just because you are not rushing or being rushed and feeling stressed.
  • Identify their feelings– observe your kids, put in words their feelings, keep your tone non-judgemental, tell them what you notice. Using visuals may help your kids identify their own feelings. Talking about emotions is one of the ways to work on raising emotionally aware kids.
    • you feel scared/unsure
    • saying goodbye is hard; watching mommy leaving is tough
    • you feel alone/ betrayed/ frustrated
    • you need more love/ hugs/ reassurance; it takes time to get used to all the new things
    • you feel nervous about going to a new place/staying with your teachers, meeting your new friends
  • Transition time– on your way to school make time stop! Think of it not only as a transition slot but also as a sacred moment for you and your child to find joy being in the moment arnd to strengthen your connection.
    • go slow and explore, describe what you see, encourage your child to share with their teacher and friends what has caught their attention.
    • On your way to school try adding a fun activity to set up the mood for the day- a silly song, a rhyming game, a guessing game. Some gross motor movement- zigzag walking, bear walk, frog jumps, or some kind of an obstacle course. We always walk to the kindergarten and we often look for different leaves or rocks and watch the ants working hard; on our way, there are some rocks perfect for climbing up and down- it is our imaginary maze. When it rains, we always sing a song about rain on our way. Another fun thing we have tried is to play pretend- almost all kids have a character they like, so speaking and taking action, just like their personal hero, is fun!
    • Once you arrive, have a simple ritual to say goodbye. It could be a rhyme, a songline, a strong hug, a silly joke or a codeword.
    • For kids who suffer from more severe separation anxiety, I have received a great tip from Boryana Fukumoto from English for babies and moms (Find her on youtube) who suggests adding a photo of mommy to the back of the name tag (kids usually wear one at kindergartens around here), which is a lovely and descreet way for kids to keep their loved one close to their heart.
  • Bribes– Not that I recommended bribes but I used them occasionally in the very beginning. This is really something that I am not proud of but I let it be. When my kid did not want to go to kindergarten, I usually used After/Before: “Ok, we can do (something fun/get something), right after pick-up.
  • Something special after they come back home– anything that you both enjoy doing together; anything to be looking forward to. I am sure you have a good idea what your child will love. It is a great way to reconnect and help them decompress, relax and regulate after school.
    • Some kids may need to talk and share about their day. If so, give them your attention and just listen. For others, it may be better not to mention anything about school. Then later, when you both feel connected, have a quick check-in. Try asking them to draw a picture of their day or their favourite part of the day. What made them laugh? What surprised them?
    • welcome-home notes- greet them with a sweet message from you or their siblings on the front door or in the mail box. Surprise notes in their bag or on their lunch box are also a great way to show your love and support.
  • Encouragement
    • who they are- tell them that they are brave, strong, able; that they are born to adapt, ready to explore and learn new things; notice and point out when they are being kind and caring. Count every small win: Wow, they changed their shoes without crying, they were brave to say hello.
    • their growth- how much they have grown- before they were not able to do (get dressed, put their shoes on, pour water, carry heavy bags, open their umbrella, hold the door, etc.) and now they have learned to do it, jst like their big brother or friend; how they cried a lot on the first day and cry less now, or how they have got to enjoy games and made new friends.
    • observe when they are home- “Wow, you remembered to throw the tissue in the dust bin, how well you did!” “How proud I am of you for ….” GO over the top! Make them feel proud and seen. Help them grow more confident.
  • Take care of yourself– big changes are as hard on us, parents. Plan how you will take care of yourself. If affirmations or visualizations work for you, then prepare a few to use when you feel the ground under your feet is shaky. I often visualize a big bubble for me and my kid. A bubble where we are allowed to feel everything- to expload, to express our frustrations, turbuent emotions, and where we also find our calm and get stronger. Throughout our struggles we need an island where we feel safe, loved and supported.

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