When I asked on Instagram last month what moms want to read about for back to school, two topics made up for 90% of the responses: school lunch ideas and school separation anxiety / preparing emotionally. I can’t believe this but it’s my 7th year sending a child off on a “first day of school”. The scary thing: time flies way too fast. The comforting thing: she’s still going to school with some of the exact same friends and I will see some of the exact same mom friends I did 7 years ago. The interesting thing: I have the same feelings each year.
So for the moms sending kids off for the very first time: know that the back to school nerves and emotions you may be feeling are totally normal and will probably not change much as they grow. After so many moms messaged me asking for posts about back to school emotions and separation anxiety, I went back to the blog to find some links to send them of old posts and re-read a post I wrote years ago: Why I’ll Cry on the First Day of Kindergarten. I hadn’t read it in a while and reading it made me cry. I realized that I was feeling the EXACT same way about this school year. This year my oldest will head to 3rd grade which is in the upper elementary school that goes up to 8th grade. She’ll be faced with so many more unknowns and there will be even more things I won’t be there to help her with (like a locker for the 1st time!!). The grades change but for us moms, the emotions don’t. It’s also really exciting and fun to watch the school years go by. I’m not a teacher and I am always impressed and shocked to see how much teachers teach our kids in just a year at these early ages.
This year, I’ll send baby #4 off to school for the first time. He’s the youngest and last baby, so this time I have a whole new set of emotions. As I prepare him to start school for the first time and also try and answer some of your questions about “tips” for preparing kids, I’ve put together a not so traditional post on my real life tips for preparing for the separation anxiety of the first day of school. Because as I prepare to do this for the 4th time around I have learned two hard facts: 1.) all kids are different, even in the same family 2.) first day of school jitters can come not only on the first day and not only their first year of school
So here’s my way of preparing kids for back to school jitters (and hopefully helping moms emotions along the way):
Send a lovie in their backapck. This can be one of two things:
One: their actually lovie they sleep with/ carry around. You can tell them it’s in their backpack and going to school with them. Tell the teacher they might need a minute to go visit it during the day in the beginning of school. For really little ones, ask the teacher if it’s ok that they carry it the first few days. I was always “embarrassed” to ask the teacher if my child could do this. I don’t know why! I think with the first 2 I thought they were supposed to act “mature” when they went to school ha! Last year I remember peeking in Tommy’s class and seeing a child or 2 holding their lovie during story time. Why not? When they’re little, they might really need something to comfort them in the beginning when you’re not there and that’s ok.
Two: a special “lovie” for school. I have no idea where I first came up with this idea or who suggested it, but years ago when Maggie started having some separation anxiety at school we got our “kissy bunny”. It was a tiny stuffed bunny and before school I would kiss it and hand it to her and she would put it into her little backpack. She didn’t ask for it everyday but it lived in her backpack. Some days when she was feeling nervous or sad she’s take it out when we were going into school and ask me to kiss it. I would tell her if she needed a kiss from mom during the day, to visit the bunny and get one of my kisses from the bunny. This is not just for preschoolers. When she started full day school in first grade, a few weeks in she was getting very upset about school and how long it was. She said it was too long of a day away from me. So we got a little “kissy dog”. It was a small dog figurine (she loves dogs) and I had her keep it in her backpack. It was “our dog” together and if she was feeling sad or needed a reminder “mom was thinking of her too” to go visit her little dog or even keep it in her desk. This year my girls are really sad about not being in the same school as each other. They decided they’ll “trade” a little toy of their own to bring in their bags to think of each other during the day. If you think about it, regardless of the age, after a summer of family and friends, to be in a new classroom with a new teacher and many new faces can be intimidating. Having a small lovie in their bag that reminds them of mom, dad, sibling, etc when they need it can be key.
Ok here’s where we get a little more unconventional with the tips. Please keep in mind I have zero child psychology expertise and am simply “keeping it real” with how I dealt with some school fears… may very well be the worst advice BUT here goes: if your child is having a really tough time with school drop off try some bribes. I had a really hard time getting Tommy to go into school last year (he was almost 3). We got to the point where I would bribe him to not scream and cry…. mainly because it was JUST at drop off. I would peek in 5 min… sometimes 2 min later and he was happily playing with the other kids. He would also come out telling me how much he liked his friends, teachers, etc. So we needed something for him to FOCUS on at drop off besides the separation. So sometimes it would be a lollipop after school, getting a little prize, etc. It was a bribe, yes, but also something we could talk about and focus on besides saying goodbye at the door. It worked. Also, look around at preschool drop off: you might not be the only one slipping a kid a lollipop when they walk out the door smiling 😉
It’s also something I’ve had to use for bigger kids, especially with the transfer from half day to full day school. More along the lines of: if we go in, no trouble for the week, Friday night we can celebrate with something (movie night, ice cream date, etc).
I guess my advice is to know tear are going to happen. Know that it’s totally normal and instead of having anxiety worrying that you’re going to cry when you leave them or they’re going to cry… just let it happen. For the moms: know that other moms will cry too. Maybe not at drop off, maybe not the first day, but they’ll cry. If you don’t cry: it doesn’t mean you are some non emotional mean lady… we all cry for different things, school might not do it to you, that’s fine! I didn’t shed a tear at school drop offs until my oldest went to 1st grade and was in school “full day” for the first time. For the kids: tears are totally normal. Here are a few notes on our experience with school time tears
- It might not happen the first few days. Sometimes the beginning is exciting and new and then they realize “what the deal is” and get over the excitement and it turns to tears
- It is HARD to leave a screaming child. When you visit preschools: think less about their “curriculum” and more about whether or not the teachers are people you feel comfortable leaving your screaming child with. It sounds funny, but in all seriousness, pick a school that you feel is a warm, safe, happy place for your child. I love our preschool and the teachers. When Tommy was being dragged in the door screaming last year I knew he’d be ok because the teachers had provided a safe happy place for his 2 older sisters and I knew they’d do the same for Tommy. If I didn’t trust them it would have been a lot harder for me.
- If the tears are lasting more than a few weeks try the lovies and the bribes
- If the tears are lasting more than a few weeks, try and figure out if the school drop off routine needs to be switched up. For example, Alex, my 2nd would be excited for school and happy walking in the door but by the time the classroom door opened she would be clinging to me and crying. I realized that we were getting to school too early. When we switched up our routine and got there right before the class door opened, no more tears
- If the tears last past the first few weeks: try having someone else drop them off. This pertains more to slightly older kids, but when we’d get in a rut with not wanting to go into school, complaining it made them sad when I left, etc I have always found a few days of switching up who drops them made a big difference (dad or a friend to carpool with) For some reason, switching up where we said our “byes” for the day helped.
Back to School is a big time for big emotions. Emotions for moms and kids come with change and a new school year is always a change. It might be their first year, a new school or just a new grade/ teacher, but always a change. It’s a big change in season: for us the summer means non stop time with me and their siblings. It’s a lot of freedom and little routine. Then all of a sudden I’ll drop them all off in different classrooms (in 3 different schools!). It will be a big change for them and for me. Whether they’re crying or you’re crying just remember, you’re both growing and learning. Academically and emotionally.
Have a great back to school and if it makes you feel any better: know I’ll for sure cry this year when I drop this last little baby of mine off for the first time and know that as much as my kids love school I’m willing to bet at least 50% of this gang shed some tears.
All of the photos in this post were taken while exploring a local farm as one of our “things to do before school starts” list. Many of you asked about their matching outfits in the photos and they are from Hanna Andersson. I’ve always loved Hanna Andersson for school clothes and now they have a “Family Matching” section on their site. Nothing says back to school like plaid (Catholic school girl here!) and love that there is different color plaid so they can “coordinate” without totally matching. Check it out!
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