It’s been a couple weeks since our kids started school. This is the first time my twins and Mary’s son are going to “big school” and a lot of stress popped up in some very weird places.
Luckily, one of my lifelines is my cousin Dani. She is a former elementary and middle school teacher with her Master’s degree in Elementary Education. She has over two decades of experience working with kids of all ages and in multi-age environments. Again, hooray for having a super-accomplished inner circle.
We gave her some questions about helping kids with their first couple days back at school, and things parents may overlook.
1) How long does it usually take for little kids to get over separation anxiety when they first start real, full-day school? Tips to help this transition?
This depends largely on age, experience, and ability of the student. I have seen children struggle for 30 minutes up to a week or two. Students who have been going to “school” since infancy tend to make the transition the easiest due to their familiarity with the drop-off/pick-up process. Students who have also spent a decent amount of time with friends and family without their parents (i.e. spending the night with grandparents, or having an all-day play date with an aunt/uncle) also tend to handle separation anxiety and acclimate to new environments quicker. However, if the student struggles with a mental, social, or emotional disability or trauma, this process can be more difficult at any age for a number of reasons. Some of the best ways that parents and guardians can help a child cope with separation anxiety is to prepare them for their first day ahead of time, and on more than one occasion.
- Take students to the school and show them where they will be dropped off and picked up. If they are going to ride a bus, go over where the bus will pick them up and drop them off.
- Practice getting ready in the morning. From wake up to out the door, how quickly do they need to move and where are they going to find their shoes, lunchbox, backpack, etc.
- Go to “Back to School Night”!!!! Even for older students, this helps them know where to go and what to expect. It also lets your student see/meet their classmates and have another friendly face on the first day.
- Be excited, but also understanding. Kids read and feel the room better than most adults; the catch is that they will subconsciously emulate the people they know and trust. If you are excited for them to go to school, then they will ACT excited, which is a good thing. But there is a ginormous chance that they will be terrified of some aspect of going to school underneath it all. Talk with your kiddo about what they are thinking and feeling. This is a huge step for them regardless of their age and grade level. Having this conversation before Back to School Night will also give you a chance to address anything that has to do with the building or the people in it.
2) Any advice to nervous parents?
1) The practice is just as much for you as it is for them. Knowing what to expect on that first day will help you keep the nerves at bay.
2) Do what you feel is best for you that day. If you need to go into work late and/or leave early to be at drop-off and pick-up on their first day, do it. If you need to go through it like every other school day will be, do it.
3) DO NOT call the school, email the teacher, or text your student on the first day. If there is an emergency at the school, they will call you. Anything else will be a distraction and you will only wind up stressing over the fact that you haven’t gotten a response.
3) What are some things parents can do before the school year starts to help their kids adjust to a new classroom?
Talk to them about what they are most excited about for the new year. This will give you a chance to discuss how things will be different. Do this regularly. If you suddenly start to mention going to school a week before it happens, that doesn’t give a lot of time for students to get used to the idea.
If the teacher sends home a letter before the start of the year, read it with your child. Many times, teachers will write about what families can expect and what they are most excited about, which can help you and your child understand what the year will be like.
4) Children respond differently depending on their environment. As an educator, do you prefer to know any perceived difficulties a child may have (ex: sensitive to sound, easily distracted, etc) before meeting them or find out as they progress through the school year? What things can be done in the classroom to accommodate for these sensory needs?
If it is something that can severely, negatively affect your child’s learning/environment or that of their classmates (sound sensitivity, easy access to the bathroom, etc.), tell the teacher ahead of time. But if we are in the same building as their previous teacher, we probably already know.
When there is a difficulty that is being successfully managed (ADHD with medication, vision issues with glasses, etc.), I like to get to know the students before being made aware. On that note, if you decide to adjust any part of your child’s medication regimen, please let their teacher know ahead of time. If you do decide to wait on informing teachers, know that it might take some time for them to notice certain difficulties. Everyone is excited at the beginning of the school year, and that leads to differing behaviors for the first few weeks or so.
There is quite a bit that can be done to help students with sensory needs. It will depend on the school system, principal, and teacher as to what is allowed in and around the classroom. In my experience, I have had everything from a safe space to a “walkabout” card for different students. Always start with the teacher, and try to bring multiple options to the table for your student. If they need a fidget, have two or three different types ready and see what will be the least intrusive to the learning environment.
Some students and teachers set up hand signals or simple phrases that let them know when the student is being over stimulated and needs to take a break. Just keep in mind that whatever accommodation is put in place, the goal is for your student to miss as little class time as possible.
If there is an advanced need, talk with your child’s school about a 504 plan. This will allow for their needs and solutions to go on record and be carried over each year. A 504 plan does involve a yearly meeting with the teachers and administration. A doctor’s diagnosis can also be required for certain accommodations.
5) I saw a video on TikTok that said to be sure that your kid knows how to open their lunchbox. Any other little things that parents might overlook?
Yes, lunchboxes are HUGE. Also, don’t give them all “new” foods for school. If they don’t like it, then they may get hungry later in the day which can hinder their learning. In addition, let them eat the lunch you are planning on packing for them a few days before sending it to school. You don’t want to pack too little and wind up with a hangry kiddo, but you also don’t want to pack too much and find out later that they always throw their fruit cups away and you are just wasting money.
*Side note: I worked cafeteria duty for 3 years, please DO NOT send fruit cups if you can avoid it. Opening them is a bear, but even if they get opened and the fruit is eaten, do you really trust a 5-year-old to not spill the juice at their table, on themselves, or on the way to the trash can? The answer is no.
Also make sure that they know how to politely ask to go to the bathroom. Yelling, “I have to potty!” in the middle of circle time isn’t as cute as it sounds.
Make sure they know how to go to the bathroom in that adorable first day of school outfit that you bought. Being caught not knowing how to unclip your overalls in the bathroom can go from bad to worse real fast.
Just like their lunches, make sure they know how to use the school supplies that you bought them. At home you can dump the crayons out, but at school they roll everywhere and you never end up with all of the colors back in the box. They will be expected to keep them in the box while using them, in most cases.
Go over how they are going to get home multiple times. It will be on their paperwork, and their teacher will have studied their list to no end. But as soon as your child adamantly contradicts the list, the teacher will second guess themselves, and you might wind up getting a phone call.
6) What top 3 characteristics would you expect a child to have to be successful in class?
– Self Advocacy. If they don’t know how to do something or they don’t understand, they need to ask. They also need to know how to ask politely.
*All of these are a continuous progression no matter your age, but even a kindergartener can show these on a basic level.
7) What are some things parents can do to help their child’s teacher the most?
Show them grace. Teachers are human, we have emotions and we make mistakes. If there is an issue in a classroom, the teacher is more than willing to address it, promise. It may take some time, however.
Talk to the teacher first if there is an issue. If you automatically go, or even threaten to go, to the principal or the school board, you are skipping the one person who can truly help you and damaging a relationship in the process.
Help your child at home. This does not mean do the work for them – totally different. Talk about school, look at papers, work through that math problem – who cares if it’s the crazy one about 600 watermelons. Ask them what they learned that day and who they sat with at lunch. Be present.
Do not bad mouth the teacher in front of your child. You can disagree with the teacher in front of your child, but the moment you start speaking negatively about their character, classroom management, book choice, etc., your child will start to think that way as well and that will carry over to their classroom behavior for sure. If there is a problem, go to the teacher first.
Good luck to all of the families up north starting school in the next week. We hope this helps you and your kid prepare for a big and exciting new year.
Next month, we’re tackling back-to-school and different ways for kids (and parents) to get started on the right foot.
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