Ideas to Help Ease the Back to School Jitters


The first day of school evokes a world of emotion for both parent and child. As parents, we have to trust that our child will be left in kind, gentle hands. Will strangers appreciate my child? Will my child feel confident enough to speak up for what they need? 

For children, the thought of leaving the comfort and safety of their home and the slow pace of summer days can be paralyzing. Transitions are tricky in the best of situations, like when the child knows what to expect (how many times has your little one thrown a fit when it’s time for bed?). In the murky unknowns of the first day of school, there are many pitfalls to navigate. Preparation before the big day is key to having the best first day of school possible. Here are my suggestions on how to prepare:

"Parents offer unconditional love and this love should be within the context of helping a child developing independence."

-Maria Montessori

1. Meet The Teacher If Possible

Take advantage of any meet and greets school might offer… at my current school; there are a few opportunities. We meet new families at the end of the school year by inviting new families to our spring picnic, and we have a new family orientation the week before school starts. Parents are encouraged to bring their children (we call any day that a new child visits the classroom a “looking day”... there is no pressure to perform or show off what they know). We want to spend time together to reduce any fear they might have of being left with us on the first day of school. Some schools invite new students to spend a morning with the class. Others have playdates at the park. Some teachers choose to send the child a letter with a photo of themselves enclosed. Most schools offer new school offers orientation, make sure to take advantage!

2. Get Into a Routine

Shifting from the pace of summer to the regimented and sometimes harried pace of school mornings could feel like an abrupt and harsh transition. The week before school starts, begin easing into a routine. When you can, ask your child for input: “will you brush your teeth first or get dressed first?” Write down your plan, draw pictures together on Sunday evening, and start your trial runs Monday morning. Be gentle and adaptable as you work out the kinks and be open to making necessary adjustments: “I notice that you are taking a lot of trips up and down the stairs… tomorrow, let’s try getting all your upstairs tasks done and then come downstairs.”

Practicing the morning routine without the added pressure of getting to school on time will make the first day of school a little more peaceful.

3. Read the Parent Handbook

I know. It’s dense, and if you’re a new parent, it might not even make sense yet. But setting your child up for success means sending them to school with everything they need and nothing they don’t. At my school, children do not bring backpacks. We have limited space under their cubbies, just two hooks. One hook is for a jacket, and one hook is for their nap mat. Occasionally a child comes with a backpack that they bought new just for school, and though I let them down gently, it’s always sad for the child when I ask them to leave the backpack at home tomorrow. Knowing the rules, procedures, and expectations will set your child up for a great first day.

4. Be Honest with Your Child

It’s natural to want to assuage our child’s fears and anxieties, but be realistic. For example, long ago, a first-time parent dropped her child off at my classroom door, and her parting words to her child were, “I’ll be out here if you need me. I’m not going anywhere.” This calmed the child, and the mom stayed in the hallway for a while. Soon enough, she had to leave for work. Imagine how upsetting it was for her child when they went out to an empty hallway. Imagine how sad the mom was to learn how upset her child was. Of course, she didn’t mean she would stay at school all day, but her child thought so. We live and learn. Choose your goodbye carefully. If you think it will be a tough goodbye, practice what you will say BEFORE the big day. “I will pick you up after a nap,” or “I will be thinking of you all day,” or “I know it will be hard, but we can do hard things.” There is no guidebook for saying goodbye on the first day of school (though I hope this might help).

5. Read Good-bye Books

Speaking of goodbyes, prepare your child for a day apart. A few years ago, there was one little girl who requested I read The Kissing Hand every day for weeks. It was the book her mom had read to her in the week leading up to school, and it brought her comfort. I used to have the book on tape as well, and it was a highly requested listen during naptime. Maybe you and your child can think of your version of a kissing hand, something that’s special to just the two of you. Goodbyes are hard, but we owe it to our children to give them healthy ways to feel sad.  

There will be a lot of emotions as you drop your child off for the first day of school. Be kind to yourself as well as your child. Ask for help from your child’s teacher… I always try to send a picture during the first day to ease the separation. Ask for help from a fellow parent… get coffee or talk it out on the way to work. There’s no easy way to say goodbye, even for a day, but we can make the best of it!

If you have questions, comments, or if you’d like to suggest future topics, please leave a note in the comments section below.

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