The start of school is a major milestone for parents too!
Up until this point you have been there with your child through all of their firsts; first smile, first laugh, first word, first food, first steps, and the list goes on. Now it is time to send them off to a new place without you and you feel…lost! You know you should be excited for your child to learn new things and move toward independence, but you can’t help but think about all of the things that could go wrong. What if they don’t eat their lunch? What if they have trouble making friends? What if they have learning or behavioural difficulties? What if their teacher does not like them?
Rest assured you are not alone in feeling anxious about this milestone and how it will impact your child. We spend a lot of time and effort trying to make this transition as smooth as possible for our children, but my challenge to you is to do the same for yourself. Consider how your own experiences within the education system may be influencing your fears and what feelings come up for you when you think about your child going to school for the first time.
Here are 5 strategies you can use to move through this transition alongside your child:
1. Familiarize Yourself with the Environment
Most schools offer an orientation day where you and your child have an opportunity to visit the school. This day is as much for you as the parent as it is for your child. Maximize this opportunity by writing down any questions you have ahead of time and bringing them to the orientation. Introduce yourself to all of the teachers and get your questions answered. Remember that they are there to help. If you are able to, have a look around the classroom and really notice what you see. Be present and curious alongside your child. You may be pleasantly surprised at what the school offers to support your child as they grow and learn.
2. Reframe Your Mindset
The human brain tends to focus on the more challenging aspects of change. If you are finding yourself feeling stuck in the difficult emotions of this transition, take a few moments to write down a bullet list of ways this experience will benefit both you and your child. Keep this list handy and refer to it often when fear creeps in. Consider your core values as a parent and how education fits into this picture. Although your role will be a little bit different as a parent of a school-aged child, remember that you will continue to be the main source of strength, consistency, and love for your child. Instead of focussing on what you are losing in this transition, challenge yourself to consider what you will gain in the upcoming years.
3. Acknowledge BOTH Sides of the Coin
Feelings are just feelings, they are neither ‘good’ nor ‘bad’. When we assign our feelings these labels it often leads to guilt and shame. We tell ourselves to stop feeling a certain way because it is ‘bad’, or means we are a ‘bad’ parent. Let's move away from this mindset. As you navigate this change, notice what feelings come up for you and sit with them. Likely you will find that many of your feelings are conflicting, or opposite from one another (and that is ok!). For example, you may feel excited for your child to go to school, as well as sad they have reached this milestone. By naming your feelings and acknowledging both sides of the coin, you are giving yourself space to process this change without judgement. Approach yourself with compassion and recognize you are a human being with complex feelings. These feelings can be both pleasant and challenging.
4. Open Yourself up to Community
Remember that you are not in this alone. Talk to other parents that have been through this transition already and hear what they have to say. If you see a parent on orientation day, or at drop-off and pick-up when school starts, be brave and say hello. Opening yourself up to new connections can feel scary at first, but can pay off tremendously in the long run. If you have a partner or family members nearby ask them for support as you navigate this transition. Support could look like a listening ear, freezer meals to make the first few weeks run smoothly, childcare, or whatever else you would find helpful.
5. Develop a New Routine Ahead of Time
Consider what changes in your family routine will need to be made before school starts. If you have a partner or co-parent involved, sit down with them and discuss the logistical aspects of this change such as transportation, before or after school care, meal planning, work schedule changes, and more. Ensure that all parents involved understand the changes and are feeling honoured in the process. In the weeks leading up to school starting, consider practicing the proposed routine to see if it works well. Doing a few practice runs can do wonders in working out some of the kinks and feeling prepared for school!
Change is difficult for everyone. As you navigate this change, remember to check in with yourself often and reach out for support when you need it. You’ve got this!
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Rochelle Kaikai, MSW, RSW