Making the Big School Leap: Helping Child Adjust to Kindergarten
Even if your child had an experience with some sort of preschool program, there is just a big shift from preschool to kindergarten.
Some kids jump right in! First day! New school! New Friends! New teacher! Excitement!
Some kids struggle. School starts. Mommy and Daddy are gone. It’s a long day. They are tired. It’s a BIG CHANGE.
I am a mother of four and three of my children have made this transition into full day kindergarten.
My oldest two? No sweat.
But my third child? Whew. It’s been a BIG struggle.
Now that we are a few months into the school year, and she’s (finally!) fully adjusted, I wanted to share what has helped her get to this point!
How to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten
I am a big believer in helping my kids prepare for big transitions whenever possible.
For my third child, she has two older siblings attending the same school.
They helped a LOT in getting her excited about going to school. She was thrilled to get to be at the same school with her siblings and, especially, to get to ride the bus home with them in the afternoons.
I had her help in picking out her new school items: her book bag, lunch box, school supplies and first day outfit.
We also read books about school.
Many of the same tips I share in this post on how to prepare for preschool apply when preparing for kindergarten.
I did all the “right things” in preparing her for this big change, and leading up to the first day she was truly EXCITED about going.
It all even went well when I dropped her off that first morning! I kept my emotions in check and she was smiling as I walked out.
But all of that changed once the school day actually started. She came home that first day smiling, but told me she struggled with lots of tears after I left.
And each evening and each morning following was filled with tears.
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Handling Kindergarten Emotions
For my daughter, the issue wasn’t that she didn’t enjoy school…the issue was that she missed Mommy while at school.
My first step was to try to find ways to help her remember that Mommy is always with her and always loves her and would be home waiting for her after school.
Here are some of the things we did:
- I drew a heart on her hand and kissed the inside of her palm
- She wore a heart necklace of mine to school each day
- She took a picture of us together to keep in her desk
- Rubbed a bit of my lotion on her wrists to have Mommy’s smell with her
I struggled REALLY hard personally when she had such a hard time about leaving me.
I literally had to pull over after drop off one morning and just sobbed and sobbed. Seeing her upset when she left the car and having to have a teacher pull her out just broke my heart.
When my daughter gets worked up with her emotions she struggles to be able to calm down.
A great trick we started doing in those moments is to “blow out a candle.”
She holds up one finger and breaths in and then slowly blows out as if her finger is the candle and she’s blowing it out!
She loves this exercise and told me it helps her to feel better. She says she can’t think when she’s really upset!
Once she calms down she can better tell me what she is feeling and we can work together to figure out how to best help.
I’m thankful my husband is often able to take the kids to school in the mornings and we tried to make every effort to have him handle drop off for awhile.
She seemed to do MUCH better, and be less emotional, when he dropped her off!
Dealing with Kindergarten Exhaustion
The second biggest issue my daughter had was the length of the day.
Up until kindergarten she had only attended a half day preschool program which meant she was able to have a nap every day.
At our elementary school they don’t even have a rest time or nap time at all anymore so she went from a daily nap at home to going ALL day with no real rest.
It’s a LOT on those little kid bodies to pay attention during the school day, have all the activities, and then not have a break to sleep.
It is CRUCIAL to make sure kindergartners get the sleep and rest they need at HOME.
I bumped her bedtime up and had her going to sleep around 6:30.
I also had her sleep as late as she possibly could. I packed her breakfast for the car in the morning for her to eat it on the way to school.
I’d literally wake her up 10 minutes before we walked out the door for the day.
Allowing her that extra sleep made a HUGE difference.
A well rested child is a less emotional one.
Focus on Being Brave
My daughter would cry each night at bedtime just thinking about school the next day.
She would say “I’m just so nervous.”
I always let her know that it’s okay to miss Mommy and it’s okay to be nervous. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to feel sad.
But that we also have to be brave!
I bought books to help focus on bravery and that walked through different choices she may be making during her school day.
I also purchased some essential oil for her to put on in the mornings. Not only in the hope that it’d help bring her that calmness she was needing but also because it helped give HER something to DO to feel better.
A big thing that really helped was to offer an after school snack.
I bought a box of popsicles and told her that IF she was brave at school (meaning no tears) then she could have a popsicle after school.
Not only was it an excellent incentive (and it worked!) but the after school snack time is a time I enjoy with all of my kids as an opportunity to hear about their days and transition from school time to home time.
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Making Home Life Simple
It’s also important to keep things low key at home while your child gets adjusted to kindergarten.
I wanted my daughter to feel relaxed at home.
She cleans up her book bag and lunch box and we sit and talk about her day.
I make sure to offer lots of snuggles and reminders that I love her and am proud of her and show MY excitement for her school life.
I focus on all the positive things and focus on friendships she’s making and the benefits of getting to be at school.
I also make sure she has plenty of time to just rest, relax and play.
Having downtime is so crucial for children and is a key component in their overall health and wellbeing, especially when adjusting to a new environment.
A big thing we started doing was to look forward to something in the future.
We travel often and usually have fun things planned on the weekends so we started counting down to the next fun thing.
This helped her wake up each morning excited for the fun thing to come and was a good talking point to help calm her when tucking her in at night.
It also helped to keep in contact with her teacher.
Her teacher was wonderful with keeping me informed about how she was doing and let me know if she had a tough day.
That gave me the heads up to know what to expect when she got home and be able to adjust our plans for the evening time accordingly.
Having open lines of communication between parents and teachers is always important and those kindergarten teachers especially understand all of the emotions and transitions that are at play as your child moves to elementary education!
Keep it Business as Usual
I had a friend give it to me straight: “you just gotta keep it business as usual.”
And I love that advice!
It’s SO HARD to see our babies upset. And all we want to do is fix it. Make it better. Give them joy.
But reality is…they have to go to school.
Sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do.
But we have to learn to do them anyway and do them with a happy heart.
It’s up to
So I stuck to the early bedtimes. Kept the afternoon snack for reward.
And then just made it business as usual.
We get up. We go to school. Period.
Sometimes you gotta just wear those big girl mama britches and ignore the tears in their eyes, give ’em a quick kiss in the drop off, and say “have a great day!” as the head out the car door.
That moment of saying goodbye is a moment where you can set the tone for their day! Keep it short, happy and upbeat!
It was defiantly a combination of so many things that has helped our daughter make the adjustment to kindergarten.
It has been a learning experience and has really taught me a lot about her unique personality and ways in which I need to best parent her individual needs.
A lot of her feelings and physical responses to starting elementary school gave me some insight into a bit of anxiety she may have at times and it’s something I am thankful to learn about now when she’s young so I can best help her work through it as it comes!
Mental health is so important and talking to your child about their feelings allows your parenting to be geared to fit their needs.
You know your child best – keep being patient, offering love, and figuring out what works best to help them love their new school environment and before you know it they will be crying on the days they don’t get to go!
Handle the Kindergarten Emotions
Learn some "calm down" strategies
Have simple ways to remind the child you love them throughout the day
Give comfort and support
Dealing With Kindergarten Exhaustion
Keep afternoons low-key
Move bedtime earlier
Allow child to sleep as late as possible
Focus on Being Brave
Reward and offer praise
Read books to encourage bravery
Have an after school snack time
Make Home Life Simple
Focus on the positive aspects of school
Communicate with teacher
Plan for the future
Keep it Business as Usual
Keep goodbyes quick
Stick to routine