Time to Eliminate Kindergarten Jitters
The first time we experience something can be exciting. The anticipation builds and the mind is full of hope and wonder. Firsts can also be stressful when one doesn’t quite know what to expect. The hope and wonder can turn into fear and dread. The two-sides to "firsts" captures what it is like for a kindergarteners as they prepare for the first day of school.
So how exactly do you eliminate first day jitters?
Young ones are so excited by the wonder of school. They feel grown up - like they can accomplish anything. It’s up to us, as adults, to help them keep that optimism. Too often, that excitement can turn into an outright fear because they pick up on the nervous energy of their parents. We transfer our worry to our children - and sometimes without even knowing it. The expression goes "monkey see, monkey do", and that applies perfectly as it relates to the behavior of parents and children when entering school.
Here are some tips to help parents manage expectations and turn this first into a great experience for both the students and the adults. Remember, to eliminate jitters, it’s a matter of TIME.
- Talk with your child. It may sound simple, but take the time to talk with your child - not only about what they are feeling, but also what you are feeling. Let them know you are excited for them. Ask them what they think about going to kindergarten. Probe on what they are looking forward to, and what concerns they may have about it. If they are extremely anxious or nervous, downplay the significance of the day. You want to be mindful about creating too high of expectations for your child. Yes, going to kindergarten is a significant step for your child, but creating a heightened awareness could create undo stress for them. As you are able, relate starting kindergarten with something they are already familiar with and have conquered. Talk about the things they can look forward to about going to kindergarten - new adventures and new friends.
Imagine the day. The more prepared you and your child are for the first day of kindergarten, the greater the success of the day. Many schools have open houses before school starts. Take advantage of that and attend the open house. Visit your child’s classroom; meet your child’s teacher. Walk the halls of the school with your child. Take the walk from the entrance to the classroom. Become familiar with the cubby area where your child will store his/her coat and boots. You may not know which cubby is your child’s, but you will see it and experience it together. Walk into the classroom and look around. If the classroom does not have an attached bathroom, walk with your child from the classroom to the bathroom. Additionally, walk with your child from the classroom to the gymnasium or library. Help them become familiar with every aspect of the building they will use. By doing this ahead of time, it takes away some of the fear of the unknown. And, just as it is important to walk through the halls of the school together, it is also important to become familiar with the route your child will take to school. If they walk, then make that walk with them. Leave your house together and walk to school. Make sure they understand how to get there and how to cross any intersections they may walk through. Then, when you get to the school, take the route home. By doing this, you not only empower the child, you eliminate some of your parental fears. If they ride the bus, drive the route with them so they become familiar with the settings. Finally, take the time to go over with them some behavior tips for while they are in school. Remind them to be good listeners, raise their hand with questions, stay seated when they are asked to do so, and not to talk to friends when they are working on projects. Taking the time to go over things ahead of time will provide your child with the reassurance needed for a successful first day of school, and more to come.
- Make a routine. The school day is packed with order and schedules. It is important to prepare your child for this by establishing a school routine at home. Making sure children receive good sleep at night is part of ensuring they are prepared to learn. Toward that end, two weeks out from the beginning of school, set the school bedtime depending upon your household wake up time. To help ease into bedtime, it’s a good idea to eliminate all caffeine-based beverages after lunch. Additionally, it’s a good idea to "power off" and turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime so children have time to unwind. In addition to making sure your child is well-rested, it is important to make sure you set a time for a healthy breakfast for your child as well. Finally, include proper exercise as part of your routine. An exercise regime at home, or letting your child explore after school sports can boost their heart health, but also help to burn energy which will allow them to get the rest they need in order to be productive. The final routine you can set up in your home is the time and place to do homework. Try to make it in a common area so you are able to help your child as they work through assignments. Not only will this encourage your child to finish the work, it will also provide you valuable time to learn about your child’s day, discover new things about their friends, and have a better picture on how your child is growing socially, academically, and emotionally.
- Encourage your child. The best thing you can provide for your child to help eliminate any jitters is encouragement. Let them know that it’s okay to be nervous, but not to let the nerves overtake them. Remind your child how much you believe in him/her. Tell them you know they are ready for kindergarten and that the school year will be great. Let them know you are proud of them and that you love them. All of this encouragement will strengthen your child’s belief in self, and help empower them to be a successful student.
Eliminating jitters for your child is really just a matter of TIME. And, here’s a tip for helping parents remove their jitters: connect with your child’s teacher and stay as involved in the classroom as you can. If your schedule permits, volunteer for field trips or other classroom events. Not only is volunteering a great way to eliminate your fears, but it is an outstanding way to get to know other parents that you will see over the many years to come.
Jitters are very normal. Every child and parent has them. The key to overcoming them is to take your TIME. Also, remember each child process things differently. You’re doing your part to prep your child for kindergarten; once school starts let them set the pace. Keep talking, set a plan, establish a routine, and encourage your child each day, and you’ll all get through this transition successfully.