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August 21, 2015

How Parents Can Prepare Themselves for the First Day of School

TV ads and Sunday circulars are not so-subtly reminding us that Back to School season is in full swing. There are tons of articles and blog posts on how to prepare your kid for kindergarten. But, what about the grown-ups? What tips and tricks do parents need to get ready for the transition to elementary school?

We spoke with several seasoned moms and dads to get survival pointers. Here are their nuggets of wisdom: 

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1. Get ready for life to hit fast-forward. 

We’ve all heard it before: “the days are long, but the years are short.” Parents tell us life goes into hyperdrive once children start kindergarten. One moment it’s the first day of school, the next it’s winter break, the next they are driving a car. Be sure to remember to hit pause and allow yourself to experience and remember the first year of school.

2. Reset your expectations for the first day of school. 

Chances are you were in kindergarten at least 20 years ago. Your memory of kindergarten may be very different than what your child will experience. It could be anything from having to say goodbye on the playground instead of in the classroom on the first day, or the emphasis on social emotional learning rather than just memorizing addition tables. Be open, be curious, and expect it to be different.

3. It might be hard, but encourage your kid to do things themselves. 

Encourage independence. Some parents recommend “letting” a child do things for themselves where others advise to “make” them do it. These things could include from walking to class from the car to carrying their own jacket. Use the first day of school as a catalyst to change behavior. You know your kid best and whether to ease into this or go cold turkey. To make this more manageable, try breaking up big to-do items like “get ready for school” into step-by-step checklists like “brush your teeth” and “put your shoes on.”

4. Think about how you want to be involved. 

There will be lots of opportunities to volunteer your time. Parents recommend evaluating your options rather than signing up for the first one. Think about how you like to spend your time: Do you want to be in the classroom? Work with the teacher? Do you want to be on a committee, or lead the committee? Talk to other parents and figure out the best way to help out. And remember, the amount of time you volunteer isn’t a reflection of how much you love your kid.

5. Don’t forget to document! 

Pick a notable spot—front door at home, sign at school—and take a first day of school picture. Then, make it an annual tradition. Your whole family can revel in how much your child is growing and changing every year. (“Mom, I can’t believe you let me wear THAT!”)

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6. Beware of siblingitis. 

In Ramona Forever, the brilliant Beverly Cleary had a doctor diagnose Ramona with siblingitis when her baby sister Roberta was born. If your kindergartener has any siblings, don’t forget to shower them with a little TLC too, especially younger brothers or sisters that are still attending preschool.

7. Embrace “failure” as an opportunity to learn. 

If you haven't read Carol Dweck's book Mindset, then you should. Pronto. She teaches that people can do anything as long as they are willing to try hard and view failure as a learning opportunity. Be wary of labeling your child as smart: rather than inspire your child, it can have the opposite effect and be demotivating. Instead, praise effort to develop resilience and grit. It may feel unnatural to say, “Wow! I can tell how hard you worked on this” rather than “You’re so smart,” but you’ll be creating the mindset children need to succeed.

8. Get ready to learn new things about your own kid. 

Many parents report transformational growth in their children during kindergarten. After spending 5+ years with this little person, you may know them better than you know yourself. That starts to change in kindergarten. Feedback from teachers may sound like they’re talking about a stranger. “He is the first to start cleaning up? Really?” Get ready to learn new things about your kid as he starts to figure out who he wants to be.

9. Maintain perspective. 

It won’t be perfect, so think about what’s important to you. Do you want your child to love learning? Do you want them to be happy, confident, independent? Kindergarten is the first step in a long career of being a student. Everything won’t click on day one. But it will click. Just give it time and remember what’s important to your family.

10. And finally, just when you thought you couldn’t love your kid any more, you realize you actually can. 

A mom shared this sweet story: On the last day of preschool, a few weeks before the first day of kindergarten, her daughter gave her one of those arms around the neck/legs around the waist hugs. The kind where even if you don’t hold on, the kid still doesn’t fall off your body. She eventually let go, jumped onto the ground, and asked, “Did you know I was going to land on my feet?” And the mom did. In more ways than one.

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