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Guiding Our Children Through School Transitions: Elementary School

Dr. Sharon Sevier | Aug. 11, 2014

Painted girl

Dr. Sharon
Aug. 11, 2014

My daughter recently sent me a picture of my granddaughter when she was two years old. Her comment under the picture was “Tears.” I totally understood her, the baby she loved and protected, the one who was so innocent and full of wonder, was about to “graduate” from kindergarten. Where does the time go? I think every parent of a school-age child wishes that they could turn back time. It’s hard to think of them leaving the nest and heading off to the school bus on that very first day. We see the kids full of smiles and excitement but behind them we see moms and dads fighting back tears. Sitting here writing this, I fast forward 12 years and see those roles exchanged, the kids fight back tears as they leave home for college while mom and dad are full of smiles and excitement knowing their kids are out of the house for a while. How perspectives change.

RELATED: Check out what your child will be learning this year in Kindergarten.

Parents and children deal with a number of school transitions throughout life. As parents, we want the best for our kids, and we want them to be happy, successful and fulfilled during their school life. Parents sometimes struggle with how and what to do to make this possibility more of a reality. Here are a few ideas that might keep everyone smiling.

Transitioning into Kindergarten

  • Always, ALWAYS talk positively about going to school. Your child will zero in on your emotions and feelings like a homing pigeon headed back after a long flight. Be positive and excited for this new venture.

  • Learn the ropes. When your local school has parent meetings about the transition into kindergarten, attend! These opportunities will allow you to meet important school personnel, like the principal, teachers, counselor, and nurse. You will also learn about any before-school activities that may be taking place, as well as important dates.

  • Many elementary schools offer a “jump start” program for incoming kindergartners. My best advice would be to make this a priority for your child to attend. These programs allow friendships to begin forming, and they give children a foundation for how school works; the types of things they’ll do each day, expected behavior, routines, etc. Find out the dates of these activities early so you can plan your vacation time around them.

  • Orientation activities usually occur right before school starts. Go! Orientation allows your child the chance to do things like ride the bus, find their way to their classroom, get acquainted or re-acquainted with the teacher and other children, and just generally familiarize themselves with school and the classroom.

  • Set a reasonable bedtime and start a “prep” routine. Being in school half or all day can be a big change for these little guys. They will be exhausted for the first few weeks. Expect crabbiness and whininess. It will pass. Making bedtime a bit earlier, especially during the transition, will be a good idea. It’s also a good idea to set a routine for getting clothing picked out and having the backpack readied each evening. Those things make the mornings much less chaotic.

  • Be prepared for crying. Not yours, your child’s. I’ll talk about your crying in a minute. If your child starts fussing and crying about going to school, it’s imperative that you hold firm. Of course, talk about their concerns. Address any fears calmly and reasonably. Let the school staff know that this is an issue. School counselors can work magic with situations like this; don’t hesitate to talk with them. Be firm and consistent in taking your child to school each day, regardless of whether or not they want to go. Your child has to see that you are ok with school and you are making it a priority. The teachers and staff are experienced with children who have separation issues. Leave your child when the teacher or staff person tells you to go, and trust that they will take care of things well. Honestly, they will let you know how things are progressing. Once in the car, it’s ok to shed some tears. It’s hard leaving your little one, especially if s/he is upset. Typically, these situations work themselves out, and all is well.

  • Questions or concerns. During the course of the school year, if you have questions or concerns, please contact the school. You want to have the right information, not rumors. Having the right information allows you to make better decisions. Be careful about listening to the stories or advice of other parents as the needs of their child may not be like the needs of your child. Ask your questions, and don’t worry about asking questions. School personnel appreciate it when parents ask clarifying questions. It allows the school the opportunity to give correct information, and it helps to inform your decisions and/or calm your nerves. If something happens in life that may impact your child’s school life, let the teacher or school counselor know. They can be prepared to help your child through whatever may be happening, and make school a safe and secure environment for him/her.

  • Homework and reading with your child. Start early in setting up a specific time and place for your child to do homework. I’d suggest it be at the same time each day and in someplace where there is no TV or other technological distractions. Your presence should be very noticeable. Let your children know that you are there if they need you but, until they say there’s a need, allow your children to do their work on their own. Here’s what I’ve often told parents: “if you step in and do things for your child, the message you may be sending is this: ‘honey, I love you but you are not capable.’” We want to empower our children to do things and attempt to do things on their own. If they make a mistake, it’s ok. That mistake allows them to re-learn, and it teaches them that they don’t have to be perfect. It’s ok to make mistakes. One other suggestion on homework is building in a time for you to read to your child and for him/her to read to you as they learn. Even if there is no homework, make reading together an evening event. Choose fun books, and make this a quality time for learning and togetherness. Reading is a critical skill, so the more practice our children get, the better.

I hope these are helpful tips for you! Stay tuned for tips into the world of middle school!

This piece is part of a series examining how parents can help children through school transitions. Check out some of the other posts about starting middle school, transitioning to high school and sending kids off to college

About the Author

Dr. Sharon Sevier
Professional School Counselor and Mom