When you’re up all night with a cranky infant, buying the first backpack seems so far away.
And yet, here we are — on the eve of your baby’s first day of school. This is an exciting time for child and parent, and it’s totally normal for there to be separation anxiety for both.
There are many reasons to feel anxious as your new student prepares for preschool. It’s hard to entrust your child to another caretaker — the teacher. If you had a negative experience in school, you may imagine that your child will as well. And if kids are struggling with the separation, it can be heart-wrenching to have to walk away that first day.
Everyone’s experience is a little different, but almost everyone gets butterflies at least. Remember that building your child’s independence is important, so you can take steps to ensure a smooth transition to this new phase of life while caring for yourself as well.
Focus on the Child
Separation is a natural part of life. Going to school for the first time is your child’s first big step towards independence, and it’s important to give her room to explore, make new friends, develop new skills, and learn to respond to other adults.
No one will ever replace your role as parent, but sometimes being a parent means letting go a little. Acknowledge your anxiety, but understand that children are remarkably perceptive. If they sense hesitance in their mom or dad, they will likely develop some anxiety as well. Even if you have your doubts, stay as positive as you can.
If you think either one of you may have some trouble when school starts, try some of these parent-tested tricks to smooth the way:
Knowledge is power: Get to know the school. Talk to the teacher and the principal. Take a tour. Ask about the curriculum. Knowing more about where your child will be during the day may give you a better picture of how your child will do.
Talk to parents: It’s very likely the other parents are going through a little of this too. Talk, vent, trade tips. You’ve already got a support system close by.
Stick to a routine: Plan out your mornings and execute a well-organized drop-off schedule. It feels a little rigid at first, but it will become a habit that is comforting to the child and makes life easier for the adult. Be sure that you don’t linger too long in the classroom — say a cheerful goodbye and be on your way.
Develop rituals: Some parents have a secret hand signal they do with their child. Others have a special rhyme they say together. Some moms stick love notes in the backpack. Find a little something that makes your time together more special and your time apart that much easier.
Take Care of You
Being there for your child means taking care of yourself, too. Because children sense anxiety, it’s even more important to care for your own emotional well-being in this time of transition. Here are some ways you can do that:
Repeat all the positives to yourself: Your child is becoming independent, learning new skills, and making new friends. This is a necessary change. And know that if you ask yourself if you are a good parent, you are. Asking questions means that you are working hard to do the right thing.
Make a plan for your free time: Make sure you have something to keep you busy, so you aren’t thinking about your child the whole time. Finish a project that’s been languishing, go to the grocery store and enjoy quiet shopping time, or even take a bubble bath. You’ve earned it!
Seeking professional help: If you are a particularly anxious person, then it can be helpful to talk to a professional therapist when going through life’s big transitions. Conversations are totally confidential, and a therapist can provide reassurance and a more balanced sense of perspective on things.