Wednesday, August 31, 2016

First Day Anxiety

Freshly pressed school clothing, a new backpack full of supplies, and a child clinging to your legs refusing to let go...welcome to the first day of school! Although children are eager to begin kindergarten, it's understandable for most to experience first day (first week, or even first month) anxiety. Imagine what it must be like to suddenly leave the comfort of home and be dropped into a new environment where everything and everyone is different. This anxiety is normal and we will help you and your child to get through it! Please speak directly to us if you are concerned about your child's anxiety at starting school and we will do our best to provide support and strategies for helping with the transition to school.  (As a mom I know how it feels to send your baby to a new place; even if you are excited about the possibilities school is going to offer your child, it's hard to make the transition and realize they are now a 'big kid'. I've been there and can empathize. Feel free to talk to me about your questions and concerns as I want your child and family to feel secure and confident heading into the school year.)
Here are some tips you might also find useful:

Downplay the milestone. For some children highlighting the first day of kindergarten as a really big deal makes them more nervous than they already are. Instead of making a huge fuss about starting school, try comparing kindergarten to something your child is already familiar with, such as going to daycare, the Ontario Early Years Center, or a music or sports class.  Explain that kindergarten will be a place where he or she will make friends and have fun, just like he or she may have done with groups of kids before.
Connect school to home. Bring your child with you to all events that happen before school including parent interviews. This will provide your child with an opportunity to meet us and see our classroom ahead of time. Please send in a 4 by 6 inch photo of your family (all members included, pets too) that we will display around the classroom. This will help your child to feel more connected to their home life while at school. When your child goes home at the end of the day, engage him or her in a conversation about what they did during the day. Talking to your child about his or her day at school can help connect school to home life.
Read books together about starting school. Reading about other children who might have fears and anxiety about starting school may be comforting to kids who are experiencing the same feelings. Here is an excellent list of books about starting school.  
Try to minimize your own anxiety. Just as it's perfectly normal for your child to feel some anxiety on the first days of kindergarten, it's absolutely normal for you to feel anxious when you see your child upset or when a life change like your child starting school occurs. It's also understandable that you may experience some frustration when you see other children playing happily in the classroom while yours is still clinging for dear life to your legs. Don't hesitate to speak with us about your concerns and how we can help plan for a smooth transition for your child into our classroom!
Don't stay too long. Reassure your child that you (or another caregiver) will be back at the end of the day (or waiting at home) and say a quick goodbye at drop-off time. Lingering will only make it more difficult for your child to see you go, and he or she may cry harder the next time because he or she may see that it's an effective way to get you to stay. As heart-wrenching as it may be for you to walk away while your child is upset, chances are that he or she will be playing happily soon after you are out of sight. We recommend that you don't sneak out without saying goodbye as this may undermine your child's trust and could worsen his or her separation anxiety.
Identify his or her anxiety. Find out exactly what your child is afraid of. Talk to him or her and find out what he or she is worried about. Concerned that you won't return? Afraid someone will be mean to him or her? Worried he or she won't know where the bathroom is or that he or she won't know what to do in the classroom? Once you establish what the specific fears are you will be better able to address your child's concerns and work with him or her and our teaching staff to find ways to handle them.
Send along a favourite comfort object or reminder of you. If your child has a favourite lovey (e.g., blanket, stuffed animal) send it along the first few days. We will ask children to keep their object in their backpack unless needed to help through a transition period. Sometimes having a favourite comfort object nearby helps provide children with a sense of security. Another wonderful item is a mini photo album filled with pictures of your family and home.
Don't put a time limit on how long it should take for anxiety to pass. For some children, first day anxiety may not last beyond a few days if it happens at all. For others, tears and school fears may go on for weeks. Just as each child has his or her own individual set of experiences and personality, the time it takes to adjust to school will vary from one child to another.

Visit our class blog together with your child. This helps your child see what fun and exciting activities have happened in our classroom in the past and will build excitement for the possibilities that await his or her time with us this school year!  
Don't hesitate to talk to us! We are here to help make your family's transition to full day kindergarten as smooth as possible.
Read professional resources to help you cope. An excellent book that we have recommended in the past for families is Nancy Balaban's "Everyday Goodbyes: Starting School and Early Care. A Guide to the Separation Process".
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