In this monthly column, therapists from North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center answer your questions on issues related to parenting, mental health and children’s well-being. To submit a question, email [email protected].
Question: We have twins, a girl and boy, and both are entering kindergarten in September. This is a first for our family, and we’re not sure if we are doing enough to prepare them, especially since their pre-school experience was limited due to the pandemic. Any advice?
Dear Anxious Parents: You’re not alone in having concerns about your children adjusting to the new routine of “big kid” school. Even before the pandemic, parents often felt anxiety about the transition to kindergarten, but since many families chose to keep their children home while COVID-19 was in full swing, those worries may be magnified right now.
Since many youngsters have been taught to keep their distance from strangers in order to avoid getting sick, they may be more wary of being with new people. You can help reassure them that you, their teachers and others are working together to keep everyone safe and healthy. While COVID-19 has shown itself to be somewhat unpredictable, we are in a far better place than we were a few years ago with preventative measures and treatment, and that information can be imparted to ease your child’s anxiety.
Starting in a new school can be scary under any circumstances, but there are steps you can take to help. If your school allows it, plan to bring your child to their classroom to meet their teacher before the school year begins. Also take them to see the gym, the playground, cafeteria, library, nurse’s office and other locations. Even if the teacher won’t be available, familiarizing your child with the school and the routine will go far in reducing their fears.
Be careful not to put your own fears onto your child. A lot of parents reflect on their own first-day jitters, and they assume their child feels the same way. While a certain level of school anxiety is entirely normal in children, they are also likely to feel excited, so remember to focus on the positive aspects of school, such as making new friends, having lots of time to play and learning fun new things.
Below are some more suggestions to make the transition as smooth as possible:
• Some schools help set up late summer playground events for incoming kindergartners. If they do, take advantage of the opportunity for your child to meet some new friends.
• Talk about what they are going to learn; make a game of “playing school” by introducing some of the activities that go on in a typical school day.
• Bring them with you when you shop for school supplies. Choosing their own folders, pencils, crayons and the like will make the experience feel special.
• Get your child on a regular bedtime schedule before school begins so they are accustomed to getting up at the same time they’ll need to awaken for school.
• Sit together and make a morning game plan—what are some breakfast ideas, which outfits will they want to wear their first week, and how they will be getting to school. If you can, do some practice runs (or walks) to the bus stop, if they’ll be taking one.
• Teach your child their basic contact information, including the correct spelling of their name, their address and their phone number. Also help them practice writing their own names.
• Make sure they know how to take their shoes on and off, and also how to zip up their backpacks.
When you give your youngsters a chance to talk about all their emotions and react calmly to whatever they say, it reassures them that everything will be fine. But if your child appears to be highly anxious and expresses reluctance to go to school after the first week or so, consider contacting a mental health professional. The pandemic has impacted children’s emotional well-being in numerous ways, so don’t hesitate to reach out for help.
North Shore Child & Family Guidance Center, Long Island’s leading children’s mental health organization, is seeing clients both remotely via telehealth platforms and in person, depending on the clients’ needs. No one is ever turned away for inability to pay. To make an appointment, call 516-626-1971 or email [email protected].