How to Help Your Five-Year-Old Child Prepare for School
As your five year old gets ready to enter kindergarten, there is a mixture of excitement and anxiety. For many families, it is the child who is excited and the parents who are anxious! There are, however, many children who may be anxious about the start of school. For these children, this may be their first experience with daily separation from home. Concerns about fitting in, meeting new friends, meeting a new teacher, finding the classroom, or, more important, finding the bathroom may be weighing on your child's mind.
Before the start of school, talk with your child about the experiences he may have. Some schools have kindergarten orientation in which the children go into school to see the classroom and meet the teacher. As you try to assess your child's reaction, see whether you can also identify areas of concern. Instead of asking your child directly about his concerns, address the concerns in a casual way. Saying something like, "I heard from Bobby's mom that there is someone who meets all the kindergarten children at the bus and takes them to the classroom" may alleviate concerns about having to find the classroom alone.
If your school does not have an orientation, arrange with the building principal to bring your child for a tour of the building before the start of school. Most schools are open the week before school begins and should be willing to allow you come in. You may even get lucky and find the teacher setting up the classroom!
Try to find out who some of the other children will be in your child's class. If possible, arrange a play date with a child before the start of school. It is very comforting for a child to know someone he can connect with in a new situation. Seeing that familiar face and, sometimes, knowing that someone else has similar concerns can ease the discomfort of a new situation.
Depending on your child's personality, you must decide whether you want to play up or play down the start of school. If your child is highly anxious, you may want to treat everything in a very casual fashion. When you go out to buy new school clothes, mention only why you are buying them. Treat the school orientation or visit in a relaxed way. Have your child share the information with others only if he chooses to do so.
If, on the other hand, your child is very comfortable with the idea of going to school, you may want to treat this like the exciting event it is. Make a special trip to buy those school clothes, and show them off when you get home. Talk about the school visit, the classroom, and the teacher so your child feels your excitement as well.
Many parents want to be at school when their child arrives on the first day. Whether you take your child to school or follow the bus and meet him there, it is important to make your good-bye short and matter of fact. Some children do quite well until they see Mom or Dad at the school building. The anxieties that were kept under control may now come to the surface. A quick "Good-bye, I love you, have a great day, and I'll see you later" is the best approach. Any anxieties your child may feel outside the building will soon be gone when he gets inside and realizes that school is a safe, fun place to be.
Presenting a positive attitude about school is the best thing you can do for your child. Associate school with independence, growing up, and learning new things. Help your child treat school as an adventure, and encourage your child to "play school" at home. This often helps to alleviate any underlying fears or concerns that may be present.
Be supportive of your child by providing extra attention and reassurance. Encourage your child to talk about school, friends, and new situations. Show interest in what your child is doing and saying about school. Try to make your home into a learning environment. Set aside 15 minutes for reading out loud, and make sure school projects and pictures are proudly displayed on the refrigerator door. Give your child his own calendar to mark special events that are happening at school.
This is also a time when it is important to encourage autonomy. The more your child is dependent on you for fulfilling his needs or feelings of security, the greater difficulty he will have separating from you. If your child has not had preschool experience, start to gradually increase the time your child can separate from you before school actually begins. Make use of familiar babysitters or family members to foster independence from you.
Finally, remember that temporary behavior changes are very common during the first two months of kindergarten. Children often show signs of increased dependence on Mom or Dad, uncooperative behavior, or regressive behaviors such as crying or bed wetting. As children become more accustomed to the new change in their lives, these behaviors dissipate. If it helps, check in with other parents who went through this stage for the reassurance that this too will pass!
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