“I hate Kindergarten,” he confessed with little arms crossed and tears in his eyes. “I did not have a good day and I do not want to go again.”
My heart sank. It seemed that almost everything, from a too-tight snack box to a lonely after-lunch recess, had gone wrong for him on his first day of school. There was fear. There was drama. And there were oh, so many tears.
“I’m sorry you did not have a good day. Tomorrow will be better.”
“So I have to go back?”
“Yes,” I nodded, mostly to convince myself. “Tomorrow will be better. Goodnight, Colin. I love you so much.”
He softly cried himself to sleep that night. So did I.
My initial reaction to Colin’s hatred of Kindergarten was anger. Why had no one helped him open his too-tight snack box? Why had no one paired him with a buddy for recess? Why does my child, who excelled in and loved 4K, suddenly hate school? I wanted to storm into his classroom and give his teacher a piece of my mind!
“Tomorrow will be better,” my husband reminded, calmly swiping Candy Crush on his phone.
The truth is, the first day of school is hard. Not only are kids expected to wave goodbye to their family and walk single file off into a loud, crowded school with a complete stranger, they are asked to do it with a smile on their face. As an Elementary School Counselor, I knew that yes, tomorrow would be better, as will each day after. But in the meantime, there were things I could do at home to help Colin with his transition to school.
1. I could listen to and empathize with his very strong feelings. I could use personal stories about my school experiences to connect with him.
2. I could pre-snip his fruit snacks and pack his snack into an easy-to-open reusable bag. I could make sure he was dressed appropriately and prepared for the day.
3. I could make sure he was getting plenty of rest and healthy meals.
4. I could arrange mental health support for him in school or through a trained doctor or counselor if his anxiety continued or worsened, or if I noticed a change in his day-to-day behavior and/or mood (depression or anxiety, difficulties with self-control, coping and transitioning). If you have concerns or questions about your child’s mental health and/or transition to school, please speak with your child’s pediatrician.
5. I could arrange playdates with his classmates to help him build friendships. I could make an effort to learn the procedures and rules of his classroom and school so that I could reinforce them at home.
6. I could read him stories about school and kiss the inside of his small hand.
7. I could build a relationship with his teacher, shower her with appreciation, foster communication with her, and surprise her with chocolate or coffee.
8. I could reassure him that he will get through this because he is a brave, strong, smart, kind, and resilient kid.
9. I could empty his folders every night and hang his school work on the refrigerator. I could actively participate and show interest in his life at school. Gosh, I could even join the PTA!
But most of all, I could let go. I could let him work through this and experience the fear, the excitement, the anticipation, the success, and the struggles that growing up brings. I could give him the gift of time – however much he needed.
On the third day of school there were no tears. He rode his scooter home with a smile on his face and announced, “I love Kindergarten! Thanks for cutting my fruit snack bag, Mommy. My day was better, just like you said”
My heart sank. But this time, it sank because my baby was growing up. He had decided to let Kindergarten into his heart and had decided that he was ready for a little bit of life outside home.
And I couldn’t be more proud.