Separating at School

Dear Sharon,

Last month you answered my question about sending my preschooler off to school for the first time. Now I have another concern – WHAT ABOUT ME? Am I going to be able to handle the emotions of leaving my child and going off to work? I’m already nervous.

A first time mother

Dear first time mom,

I like your question; things always go better for children when their parents are taking care of themselves.

As I mentioned in last month’s article—it’s perfectly natural for a parent to go through almost as much of a transition as their child when a toddler heads off to school for the first time. Up until now you’ve been there for everything, The beginning of a child’s life as they gurgle, talk, eat and take their first steps with you are precious to a parent.

Also not sure about your decision about the school – is it going to be good for them. As school begins and you realize that you will no longer be the only adult having a response to your little ones growth and development anxieties and emotions often surface. Here are some things that might help.

1. Reach out to other parents who are experiencing the same transition so that you feel less alone. Don’t hesitate to make a phone call or two to let a good friend or your partner know how the first few mornings or weeks of good-byes have gone for you. Share your experiences with a co-worker or another parent if you can that you are not the only parent who has worried and survived this time.
With children they will probably be happy to share their own first days at school stories. Conversations like these will help y 8ou know that this stage of parenting is often not an easy one and warrants some support and understanding.

2. Don’t be surprised if you need to have a few big cries during the transition. This does not mean you are a overprotective parent. You just need to say good-bye to a very important stage of your life.

3. It can help to BE IN GOOD CONTACT with your child’s school from the very first day. Talk to the teachers and other staff about your child’s personality and needs and check in with the teacher at the end of the day about how things went. A good connection to teachers can make them feel less like strangers, ease your worries and help you know if your child is actually flourishing and ready for this new part of their life.

4. If you have time and the school can accommodate volunteers you might want to offer help to the teachers in some way. You might be able to spend an hour or more in the classroom doing assigned tasks. You can also sign up to be the parent who goes on trips or excursions the school has planned. If your work life has no room for time off it can also help to bring in needed supplies; books, art materials, plants, etc. are often appreciated. All of these ideas can make you feel more involved in your child’s school life and less separate from the daily routines you used to share with your little one.

5. Trust your judgement. Every child is different and no one knows your child better than you. Parents need to advocate for their child and preschool is a good place to practice those skills. If you have a hunch that your child needs something the school hasn’ t noticed don’t hesitate to mention it.
If it looks like picking your child up early one day a week for a while would make a big difference try to arrange for you or a favorite friend, relative or sitter to do so. If it seems like arriving a little late in the morning helps your child’s day go better talk to the teacher to see if something can be arranged.
Of course your child could just as easily want to stay longer than originally planned, negotiate with the school to see if schedules can be rearranged. If one of the teachers in the classroom seems like someone your child feels particularly comfortable with mention something that can help that relationship grow and flourish.

The first days of nursery school can be exciting and emotional for everyone. I send my congratulations and best wishes.