In a few weeks, many parents will drop their kids off at school for the first time. Tears will be shed. Children will cry too. And while it can be tough handing a toddler over to a new teacher (usually a complete stranger) and new classmates, few events are more rewarding for a parent than witnessing a child embark on a successful experience at school.
Still, the transition can be bumpy. Some kids haven’t spent much time in groups. Others have never learned to share. Having worked with families of young children for over 25 years, it’s clear to me that how a child adjusts to a new school has most to do with temperament. But there are ways parents can help make the transition smoother for all, and it starts with being a teacher and a model. Don’t fret about ABCs, just keep these five tips in mind, and you’ll have your child on the road to school success in no time.
Mind Your Ps and Qs
Your child is about to be thrust into a new environment with new adults and new children. He will acclimate to being part of a community much sooner and smoother if you start asking him to treat others ⏤ including yourself ⏤ with respect. Is she demanding milk now? Tell her instead to say, “More milk, please.” Is he hitting or grabbing? Give him the exact language he is missing, in its simplest form: “I’m mad!” or “Can I have a turn now?” They’re not going to stop demanding things or getting frustrated immediately, but the sooner they start practicing proper manners the better. And remember, this all starts with you; make sure you too are using and modeling appropriate tones and behaviors to your child and in their presence.
Coach ‘em Up
While your new teachers indeed have hearts of gold and mysterious superpowers, they still only have two arms. Any time your little one is struggling or needs help, fight the instinct to swoop in and fix everything. Ask your child to slow down, take a breath, and think about what they can do. A good general rule is that whatever she can do by herself, she should be doing on her own ⏤ getting dressed, eating, even going to the bathroom. Convey belief in your child and gently encourage him to try on his own. This will help them navigate a classroom with twenty other helpless egomaniacs as well as boost their self-esteem and confidence.
Get to the Heart of the Matter
By now you know your child is a roller coaster of uncontrollable emotions. It will take him years of practice to learn to manage it all. Get started now. Any time you are feeling mad or frustrated yourself, state it calmly and then narrate what you plan to do about it: “I’m getting too frustrated right now and I don’t want to yell so I am going to take a break to calm down.” That’s right. If you’re the one who needs the timeout, then please take it.
While that’s the modeling piece, the teaching part is similar: any time your child is overwhelmed with an emotion, help them label it, express it, and learn to manage it in whatever way works. For example, you might want to say, “OK, I hear you that you are mad at me. I get that way too. What will help you calm down? It’s OK to cry.” For the record, “It’s OK to cry” is parenting gold. Any time we resist emotions, they will just strengthen. Many times all they need is a good old-fashioned breakdown. Speaking words of wisdom, let it be.
Connect and Understand
Your most important act as a parent ⏤ especially in terms of emotional coaching ⏤ is to convey and elicit empathy with your child. The more they get the sense that you “get them”, the better they will be able to move through strong emotions to solutions.
Keep an eye and ear out for natural opportunities to discuss different perspectives throughout your day with your child. You can also have it be more deliberate ⏤ pointing out facial expressions in books, for example. In order for your child to share a classroom with other children and teachers, she will have to learn to consider other people’s perspectives and desires. It’s important to get started now. While the Joneses are drilling flashcards, you’ll be laying the foundation of emotional intelligence (EQ) that will scaffold positive and successful experiences throughout your child’s academic journey.
It’s normal for everyone to feel some butterflies heading into this new chapter. As the leader, you can help maintain and exhibit a positive and confident attitude that will spill over to your child. When you or kid mentions school, talk about how much fun it will be to meet new teachers and make new friends etc. If your child expresses natural reservations, accept them with empathy and understanding but gently get back to more positive visions: “I wonder if you’re going to like playing in the sand or riding the swings more when you get outside.” Set the tone for a lifelong love of learning and school.
Tom Limbert is a preschool director, parent educator, and author. His latest gift book from Chronicle Books, Most Valuable Dad: Inspiring Words on Fatherhood from Sports Superstars, includes a foreword from Steph’s dad, Dell Curry and reflections on fatherhood from the likes of Lebron James, Natalie Coughlin, and Tom Brady. Learn more about Tom’s services and books on parentcoachtom.com.