Starting school is one of the most important milestones in a young child’s life. Kindergarten brings the promise of new friends, exciting discoveries and increased independence. However, thoughts of change often bring hesitancy and nervousness in children who are prone to anxiety. If your child is anxious about becoming a kindergartner, try implementing some of these ideas to ease the growing pains and help the transition occur as smoothly as possible:
1. Communicate and Answer Questions
The unknown aspects regarding kindergarten trigger anxiety in many children. This is especially true if your child has never attended school before. Don’t minimize your child’s fears by using phrases such as, “You shouldn’t be scared about starting school,” or “Kindergarten is fun and easy!” Instead, acknowledge your child’s feelings and thank her for being honest with you. Once you know why your child is nervous about kindergarten, work on answering her questions and easing her fears.
2. Read Books About Kindergarten
There are many excellent children’s books that provide positive tools for dealing with anxiety about starting school. Check with your local children’s librarian to secure these resources at no cost. Countdown to Kindergarten, by Alison McGhee, and Kindergarten Rocks, by Katie Davis are both great choices. Or, you can find a great list of books related to kindergarten jitters at Cozi.com.
3. Role Play
Role playing is an excellent way to build your child’s confidence before he starts school. Children love imaginative play, and you can turn pretending into a powerful tool by role playing different scenarios he will likely experience in kindergarten.
For instance, you can fill his backpack with supplies, give him a big hug and kiss, and practice walking out of your house before the first day of school. Pretend you are a new school friend, and help your child practice introducing himself or asking to share a toy. You can even take on the role of the teacher and encourage your child to raise his hand to ask to use the restroom or get a drink of water.
4. Share Experiences About Your First Day
On the morning of my first day of kindergarten, I ran away from the school bus—literally. I was standing with a group of neighborhood kids at the corner bus stop (with my mother too, of course), backpack on, Smurf lunchbox in hand, and when I saw that monstrous yellow behemoth turn around the corner, I bolted. The tin lunch box clattered to the ground and I ran as fast as I could back to my house and barricaded myself inside my bedroom. Of course, once my mother managed to push in the toy box on the other side of my door (not hard), I had to go to school anyway. Basically, it was a big, embarrassing production.
So, when each of my own daughters expressed anxiety about taking the bus (though you can bet I didn’t make them ride it the first day), I shared this comical tale with them. They laughed their heads off, and it really did ease their tension—because they knew that no matter how anxious they felt or what they did, it probably wouldn’t be as humiliating as that. Years later, they still make me tell this tale to them whenever they want a good laugh at my expense.
Kids love to hear stories about their parents’ childhoods—especially funny stuff or stories about their mistakes. It makes you seem relatable and it makes them feel less alone. Just be sure to conclude your stories by sharing lessons about what you learned from your experience, how you triumphed, and how they can too.
5. Visit and Explore
Schools understand that transitioning to kindergarten is a big step for parents and students, so they offer special events to introduce families to their schools. If you haven’t received a notice about an open house or Meet the Teacher event, contact the school office. Some schools offer playground play dates or other activities throughout the summer to help students meet new friends before school begins.
Even if your school does not host a lot of formal activities, seeing the building numerous times will help ease some of your child’s anxiety on the first day of school. Drive past the school building when you’re in the area running errands, schedule a tour or two, or ask if your child can have access to the playground during the summer.
6. Help Your Child Make Friends
If you know of other children who will be attending kindergarten at the same school, you may consider setting up a playdate in the days or weeks leading up to the first day. This will give your child a sense of comraderie and ensure that each of them sees some familiar faces on the first day. Perhaps you can even arrange to meet before school on the first day and go into the classroom or building together.
Additionally, you could also plan an informal gathering (perhaps at the park) for classmates and parents sometime during the first couple of weekends after school has started. This will help break the ice a bit more in an informal, non-school setting where kids feel more relaxed. It will also help you get acquainted with other parents—something that comes in handy later when kids start asking for playdates in other people’s homes.
7. Stay Positive
As a parent, you are likely dealing with a wide range of emotions as your child prepares to begin kindergarten. Even if you are feeling sad at the thought of your baby growing up, do your best to project a happy, positive attitude about school to your child.
Your tears might be because of your little one’s accomplishments as you are talking about school, but your child can interpret this as sadness. Be sure to remain upbeat and excited as you remind your child about all of the wonderful things she will get to experience as a kindergarten student.
It’s normal for you and your child to experience positive and negative emotions as you embark on each phase of life. There might be a few bumps in the road as you make this transition, but you will both learn and grow through this new adventure.