Kids learn to establish who they are in school. Of course it’s frightening! There’s a whole bunch of little, strange folks out here in the room with me. Who are they? How are they like? Will they be nice? What if they hurt me? What if I don’t know what to do? What if my teacher doesn’t like me? What if I have to go to the bathroom? What if … What if …
And the worst part is that their parents aren’t with them.
But here’s how we can make it less intimidating for the kids. Here’s how we can help them glide through the gates of imagined horror, and into a building where their minds are taught to fly and to embrace a bigger world:
Tip 1: Let the kids know that it’s okay to feel nervous. Encourage them to talk about their worries. Don’t brush the anxieties aside. Acknowledge them instead. Talk about starting school. Talk about YOUR first day in school (if you can remember it ... I do, I was a nervous wreck within my cool appearance, so nervous I couldn’t even cry out), talk about meeting friends, talk about the fun you had.
Tip 2: Organize play dates with the kids’ cousins or neighbours (kids of the same age) before school starts so that they will get used to being around kids, making new friends and sharing things.
Tip 3: Visit the school with the kids beforehand. With permission from the faculty, walk around the building, introduce kids to the play areas, get them familiarized with the surroundings, interact with the teachers, and watch other kids in class. This will help drive away jitters caused by not knowing what’s going to happen.
Tip 4: Arrange for a great Shopping-for-School day! Get stationery, pencil cases, bags, handkerchiefs and socks and whatever else kids need for their brilliant start in school. Let kids choose the designs they like. Most often, a favourite new handkerchief or pencil case can be a source of familiar comfort during anxious moments in a new environment. So it’s important to let the kids pick something they like, and not what you want for them.
Tip 5: Draw up a schedule. Routine can make kids feel more secured, just like how writing down plans or making lists makes some of us feel more in control of our time and tasks. So work with kids in writing up a daily routine and discuss how their day at school will be like. Then add one or two activities after they return from school – familiar activities like reading a favourite book together after lunch etc. Give them something they can look forward to.
Tip 6: Read books on starting school. It’s less daunting when kids are reminded of characters who had gone through the same fear and the similar sticky situations. And they’ll feel safer knowing that they can get through school like the characters did.
Here are 5 great picture books on starting pre-school or moving on to a higher grade (either kindergarten or 1st grade –> primary one). Some are on accepting differences amongst classmates, some are on establishing one’s unique personality, some are on missing their mothers. But all of them are on helping kids cope with anxieties and learning to enjoy school.
· Llama Llama Misses Mama Anna Dewdney
· The First Day of School Toby Forward
· When An Elephant Comes to School Jan Ormerod
· Something for School Hyun Young Lee
· Off to First Grade Louise Borden & Joan Rankin
There are many picture books on this topic. You don’t have to read all of them (there must be hundreds!). Just focus on one or two that your kids like and can relate to.
Tip 7: Agree on a goodbye routine. Agree beforehand on the number of hugs and kisses or a special gesture before you part for those 2 hours. If you promise to stay for a while to make sure they are all right, do stay! Don’t sneak out when the kids aren’t watching. They’ll feel abandoned once they realize you’re gone!
Acknowledge what the kids feel. Then think of a solution to ease them into class. Maybe point out the swing or the slide, or encourage kids to make great artwork like the ones you see in the classroom. Focus on the positive and empower them to feel braver. Tell them that kings in the past needed to go to schools, too, before they learned how to rule their kingdom. And so do little kings and queens of today. Just learn new things, and have fun. (And if all else fails, ask the teachers for help! They encounter this situation every year. They know how to handle the parting anxiety.)
Most importantly, let the kids know that when school is over, you will be right outside waiting for them.
Okay, so … do you feel better now? I hope so! If in case, just in case, you need a bit more hand-holding assurance or information, here’s a great link to check out:
And remember, when the lesson is over, I will be right here waiting to hear from you on your kids’ first-day preparations and experience.