Conscious Parenting – Preparing Children for the First Day of School

“There are only two lasting bequests we an hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings” – Hodding Carter.

As a mother of an intense, high-needs, sensory-sensitive preschooler (with transition issues), you would think that I would have prepared better for her transition into her second year of preschool this year, but one week into her school year and it is very obviously apparent that I did not. I knew enough to request to meet the teacher and tour the school ahead of time. I told her a few stories about a little girl with her name going to preschool in a new school for the first time. I bought her a new lunch box and packed it full of her favorite treats. But for my little one, this was not enough, probably, or maybe especially, because her new school is in a new country on the other side of the world from the one she knows….

So given our current reality, and this “back-to-school” time of year, I thought I’d explore back-to-school transitions from a Conscious Parenting point-of-view.

Consciously Prepare for the End of Summer and the Beginning of the School Year 

Traci of A Loving Way, talks about the importance of giving closure to the summer. Perhaps starting a ritual that celebrates the end of summer and the beginning of a new season. These could involve putting away summer things and bringing out fall toys and clothes, taking a nature walk and collecting items representing each season to put on a collage, or other rituals that have meaning for your family.

Validate Your Child’s Feelings

Rather than glossing over your child’s feelings with cheery banter about how much fun they will have at school, Traci talks about the importance of talking with your children about their feelings and validating their fears or concerns about starting, or going back to, school. With younger children, reading stories about the first day of school and talking about how they might feel may help. Sharing your own stories, or stories of family or friends, who were scared, can help children to normalize their feelings. For my daughter, hearing that her new teacher cried for the first week of school when she was little, made her feel better about her own tears.

Minimize Activities in the Beginning

On her blog, Traci cautions parents to take things slow at the beginning, to avoid overwhelming children with activities in addition to the transition to a long, work or play filled school day. Enrolling children in after school or weekend activities during the first week of school can fill up precious down time that their bodies need to adjust to the demands of their new school schedule.

Prepare as Much as Possible Ahead of Time

Sarah of Left Brain Buddha talks about the importance of preparing as much as you can the night or days before – lunches, snacks, backpacks, outfit, anything that can be done ahead of time. Having things prepared ahead of time helps to reduce the stress of running around in the mornings, and allows for more time connecting with, and reassuring, your little ones that getting ready for, and going to, school is just another fun thing they “get” to do every day. Routine charts with pictures cut from magazines or pictures of your child performing each activity can help some children develop more independence in the mornings getting ready for school.

Prepare Children Early for their Morning Routine

On a guest post on Intentional Conscious Parenting, Robert Nickell (aka Daddy Nickell) reinforces the importance of setting up a morning routine with your children and practicing it ahead of time, to help them be ready for their big first day. Turning morning school drills into a game can help you see where you might run into trouble and plan ways to address those areas ahead of time.

Familiarize Children with their School, Teacher and Classmates

Dr. Laura Markham of AHA Parenting suggests facilitate bonding with your child’s teacher, classmates and school environment before the first week of school. Most preschools have a day set aside before school starts to allow students to meet their teacher and classmates before the first day of school. Having some familiarity with their surroundings and classmates, can help children feel more comfortable when they begin school.

Start the Day off with Connection

Dr. Laura also gives some ideas of games to things to do and play to connect with your child in the mornings before they go off to school to leave them feeling loved and connected, such as an early morning snuggle as you wake them up or taking time to bond with them in the morning through play. Our morning routine has changed from my complicated yoga / morning intention routine, to a simple wake up routine where I greet and kiss each body part (“Good morning, Mr. Nose; Good Morning, Miss. Elbow”) that allows my daughter to wake up slowly and start the morning with happy giggles. Taking time to connect in the morning before school, can help ease their sense of lost connection when they say good-bye to you for the day.

Find a Way to Stay Connect During the Day

Dr. Laura also talks about the importance of giving your child a way to stay connected with you during the day, by providing them with a token, such as a picture or other meaningful object that they can keep in their pocket or bag. For some children, a tangible object can help them to feel less alone in those first weeks.

Reassure Your Child at Drop Off

Dr. Laura suggests creating a special good-bye routine to mark the transition to school in the morning. In our family, we use an idea from the Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn, in which each person kisses the palm of the other’s hand as we’re saying good-bye, with the understanding that throughout the day, when we’re missing each other, all we have to do is put our hands to our face to “feel” their love through our “kissing hand.” Dr. Laura also suggests asking the teacher to give your child a special job to do first thing in the morning to give them something to distract them from what might otherwise be a long, tearful goodbye.

The Ultimate Goal

All of the above should, in theory, lead to a smoother, happier separation on weekday mornings. However, because separation from beloved parents can be hard for young children, especially those starting a new school or starting school for the first time, saying goodbye may still be difficult. It is in these moments, that the often heard advice of teachers all over the world, that of – “They will be fine in time” – may be the most useful for parents to remember. Words that, thankfully, rang true in our family this week.

This morning, when I had to leave my teary preschooler at school, I was flooded with doubt. “Is preschool really that important? What about home-schooling? Unschooling? Am I undoing all of my work to create a positive connection? Will she ever trust me again?” My mothering instincts urged me to scoop her up and run out of the building and never look back, but my less-sentimental, realist side reminded me that my active, curious, social daughter needs the stimulation and socialization that preschool provides just as much as I need time alone and time to spend with her younger brother during the day. With those competing thoughts, I asked a staff member to check on her before I left the building, only leaving when I knew she was happily involved with her class. 

This afternoon when I arrived at school to pick her up, I was greeted at the door by a beautiful, little smiling face, followed by her teacher who greeted me with those five magical words that melted my worries like the afternoon sun, “She had a great day!”

To all you conscious parents out there with little ones starting school soon, may you too be greeted in the afternoon by happy smiles and those five magical words, “S/he had a great day!”

Thanks for reading!

What about you? Do any of you veteran parents have any conscious parenting tips for easing the back-to-school transition? If so, I’d love to hear from you!

Sharon, Author, “The Conscious Parenting Notebook.

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