August 2, 2018

How to Kiss Your Kindergartner Goodbye

Oh, that time is approaching. The time when all of the big kids get back on the bus and go and explore big ideas, social relationships, and necessary knowledge. They leave for eight hours of the day, and come back to us, mentally worn, hungry, and full of extra energy.  They have stories to share, and questions that need answering. Sometimes there’s heartache, and sometimes it’s joy. Most of us look forward to those days, when we get to send our children back out into the world for a few precious hours. Where we can work in peace, clean house without them underfoot, or simply enjoy a coffee with a friend. However, there are moms among us that approach back to school with trepidation and tears. They aren’t looking forward to putting that backpack on their child, or the first day of school pictures.  These moms are anxiously hanging on to every last day of summer, refusing to countdown for the constant reminder that the time together is coming to an end. As crazy as they may feel at the end of the day, that mom just isn’t ready for the change. That mom has a kindergartener.

Many of us have been there, and despite having older children, will be there again. Just because you’ve been through the change before (home with mom vs. elementary school) doesn’t make it any easier the second (or third!) time. Even if your child attended preschool, something about elementary school is different. Elementary school is permanent. We can’t just pull out child out because we want to go swimming/we have a day off/we don’t like their teacher. Kindergarten starts the course of their formal education. There will be standardized testing. There will be older children around (who may have heard more colorful language than what is currently on sesame street). Their thoughts and ideas will be influenced by people other than their parents.  It’s a big, scary world to which we are entrusting our most valuable assets, our children.

Thankfully, there are things that we can do to make the transition easier, for mommy and child. Much of this revolves around creating a special routine, to make back to school time something to look forward to, instead of something to dread or fear (again, for mom and child!)

-Don’t let them see your fear. While you don’t have to lie to your child, you don’t want to weigh them down with your fear and anxiety. If they ask (or sense it) be honest.  Explain that you are all going to experience some big changes, mostly good, and that you are going to experience them together.

-Do count down the days with them. While seeing that number drop a little smaller every day may hurt your heart, it will give your child something to look forward to.  We count down to things we are excited for: our birthday, family vacations, Christmas, these are all good things. It has set a precedent in their young lives. Do the same for back to school.

-Don’t overwhelm their teacher. Their teacher has a classroom of 15-20 children that were only 4 years old a few months ago.  Five is not a magic number that transforms them into well-behaved, ready-to-learn machines overnight.  Their teacher also has 15-20 sets of parents that are equally as anxious about their child going to kindergarten. The weight of the world is already on her shoulders, and she knows it.  She is doing the best she can.

-Do support their teacher. If you have the ability to help out in the classroom, on fieldtrips, or even by bringing in extra school supplies – do. Showing their teacher that you are invested in their education (and not just when there is an issue) is an act of love, for them and your child. Don’t wait for teacher appreciation week, take them a cup of coffee just because.

-Don’t wait until the last minute. This is a good lesson for life in general, but especially when preparing them for kindergarten. Don’t wait until 2 weeks before school starts to let them know they are going to school.  Start talking about it and reading books about it well in advance. Also, your school may have a list of words they’d like your child to be able to recognize by kindergarten, so start those early as well.  Mostly, don’t wait until the last minute to get supplies. When they see you rushing to get the XL number 2 pencils, and the specially lined paper (that every store sells out of in the weeks before school starts), they are going to feel the stress and pressure.  That’s not how you want them to view school starting.

-Do create memories. Right now, you have the opportunity to set in place traditions that will resonate with your child for years to come. Pick out a special book for the night before school starts, write a special one-line note in the back every year. Give it to them when they graduate. Eat pancakes for dinner the night before school starts (trust me – you won’t have time for it during the school year!) Hold them just a little bit tighter.

-Don’t linger. We all want to do it, we all want to linger at that door and watch our baby take their first big kid steps into the world. The problem is, when they see us linger, they don’t see why we linger. They don’t see the years of boo boos and snuggles flash before our eyes, the memories of working our schedules around nap times, or rocking them to sleep long past the point when they needed us. That’s what we see when we look at this child that suddenly looks so small. They see us linger and think we are afraid, which in turn makes them fearful. So, on that morning, even with tears in your eyes, kiss that baby, give them a hug, and send your child into their classroom strong.

-Do treat them. When you get to the school 30 minutes before your child gets out (no judgement here, I’ve done it too) have a plan in place. My favorite is to take them to ice cream. It gives you a chance to reconnect after that first long day apart and gives you a chance to hear all about the friends they made and the things they learned. The light in your child’s eyes as they retell all of their adventures will reassure you that you did a good job preparing them.

Back to school can be a time of difficult transition, and not just for kids. They have needed us for everything, every day for five years. Suddenly, they are expected to find their own way to their classrooms, and open their own juice boxes, and tie their own shoes. The job that we have, at times, bemoaned will have suddenly become more precious than we could have possibly imagined. It’s times like these that we wonder what life will look like as our children continue to grow and mature. Kindergarten is hard. For some of us, it’s the first time we realize that our children don’t need us quite as much anymore. The first day is hard, but the second day is easier. Go get coffee with a friend and breathe.  You’ve done good mom, but your job isn’t done yet.

About the Author 

Katie is a stay-at-home mom of three young children and a renaissance woman at heart. Always learning something new, from Arabic linguistics to early childhood education, Katie loves exploring the world around her and taking everyone she knows on incredible adventures. Sweet and smart, she is a talented writer, veteran, and military wife.

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