For children who have attended preschool, starting school for the first time will involve less of a transition than for those who have not. However, in either case, school is typically quite different from preschool. Added to that is the unfortunate fact that many public schools are often – whether through lack of funding, bureaucratic bungling, bad philosophy or factors outside their control – far less than ideal places to educate children. However, there are many great public schools too, but we don’t often have the choice due to the fact of where we live.
But whether parents are enrolling the child in a good public school or private school, there are many similar new factors parents will do well to prepare for. Here are some ideas that may help make the transition a little easier.
Some children (and parents, too) will naturally experience a certain amount of separation anxiety. If you are such a parent like I am, one effective way to deal with this is to avoid the false alternative of ‘Stiff upper lip’ versus ‘Yes, isn’t it horrible’. Children are neither soldiers nor made of Jello.
An honest recognition that new experiences can be difficult, without over-dramatizing, is healthy. Children should be helped to see that the new environment isn’t threatening, but without dismissing their valid concerns.
Meeting the teacher before the first day of school is extremely helpful. Introducing the child to a new adult, one whose goal is to help them develop, with the parent present helps everyone relax. Many schools will hold special events to do just that, but don’t expect to have a long period alone with the teacher. They often have many parent-child groups to meet.
Explaining to the child that attending school is a natural, indeed an exciting, part of growing up will help prepare them for the experience. Most children are naturally curious. Making school a continuation of the home process of developing the child’s mind and confidence by exploring the world will help school seem less strange.
Most schools will assign some form of very simple homework before long. Here again, parents can help avoid any anxiety that may occur in the face of this new challenge by making it not new. Giving the child age-appropriate tasks to complete before school begins helps build confidence, especially when the parent demonstrates eagerness to help overcome the humps.
Beware of giving too much aid or too much comfort, though. Allowing the child to experience difficulty, and seeing first hand that they are competent to meet the challenge, creates those early self-esteem building blocks. Shielding a child from any and all possible sources of discomfort is both unrealistic and harmful to the child.
Demonstrating excessive parental concern can inadvertently suggest to the child that there is something real to be feared in the new environment. That’s contrary to the message the parent wants to convey.
More fundamentally, every aspect of human development needs some kind of challenge to build strength. That’s true not only for muscles and bones, but for mind and emotions as well. When those challenges are within the reach of the child’s real potential – given his or her individual nature – confidence and intellectual capacity grow simultaneously.