As parents, we try. We do what we can with what we have. A good parent will do their best to provide for their child, to teach the child the necessary skills to be a successful, responsible, respectful member of our society and to be kind. Now what, what comes next? For those parents preparing for their child’s first year, Kindergarten is only the beginning, what next? The changes are big, and the school system can appear overwhelming and difficult to navigate.
Parents who have survived the 12 years will often say “it gets easier… someday you will be counting down the days until they return to school.” The moments of sadness and worry experienced over the first week will soon be excitement and joy as the school year continues. What will occur over the school year I know will be amazing. The child you drop off for the first time in a classroom with 16 other kids is not the same person that I will pick up on the last day. So, whether this fall will be your first year or you’re a seasoned veteran that’s counting down the days to September, here are some helpful tips to make the transition easier on both children and parents.
1. Be aware. It is helpful to know what the school district’s expectations are regarding your child’s academics before kindergarten starts. When I was in kindergarten we learned our ABC’s, 123’s, colors and even how to tie our own shoes. I was shocked to learn what is expected of my child prior to even his first day. Bottom line, if you want your child to have an advantage, be aware, know the expectations, testing utilized and skills required.
2. Advocate. As a parent, it is our role to keep our children safe. Emotionally safe, physically safe, mentally safe. Be prepared to be fierce and willing to fight the school on anything that makes your child feel unsafe. If your child has a food allergy, meet with the teacher, school nurse, administration, and lunch personnel. Do not assume they know. This is your child. Your child is an individual. Develop a plan that makes you feel comfortable and ensures that your child will steer clear of the allergen. If your child is struggling with academic or emotional problems, advocate and communicate. For the next 12 years you’re his voice. I should clarify that no good comes with conflict. Be calm, kind and respectful. Work with the school, not against the school. Support your concerns. Do your research. Request meetings. Be relentless. Do not give up.
3. Be involved. Do not depend on others to do all the work. Maintain contact with your child’s teacher. Stay up-to-date on classroom events. If an opportunity exists to volunteer, try your best to be present. Volunteering in your child’s class can be rewarding. It is an opportunity to connect with your child, get to know the classmates and support the teacher.
4. Develop realistic expectations. School can be exhausting for any student at any age. However, for most children, kindergarten is the first all day, five days a week experience. It is normal for a child to be exhausted in the first few weeks of school. The days can be long and stressful. If your child is in a classroom like my little guy, it will also be hot, all of which can be draining on a child. If possible, do not plan after school activities in the first few weeks. Use that time to develop a routine. Encourage healthy sleep and connect with your child regarding the experiences they have and people they meet. Do not expect your child to immediately understand all rules and expectations. Implement a routine and achieve perfection. Be prepared for setbacks, allow room for error, learn what works, and adapt to each individual child.
Letting go is hard. It can be bittersweet regardless if it’s the first day of kindergarten or last day of high school. Know that it is okay to be emotional. It is acceptable for both the parent and the child to shed some tears. But it is an experience that can only happen once. Allow the process to unfold. The progress that will occur over the year academically, emotionally, physically, and socially is a unique and special experience. Be present, be involved, and be prepared. If your first child is entering kindergarten, remember we have 12 years, only 12 more summers. Enjoy the journey now because these kids are not slowing down.
Rachel Velishek is a licensed professional clinical counselor with Fisher-Titus Behavioral Health, Fisher-Titus Medical Park 2, Suite C, 282 Benedict Ave., Norwalk. Her office can be reached at 419-668-0311.