You worry about this, months ahead of time. As the summer wanes and "D Day"
becomes more of a reality, you frantically rehearse the events at home with your
child. Then the big day comes: First day of school.
A child's first day at school-- the first transition into the world outside
home-- evokes a variety of powerful emotions. For some, it is an adventure, soon
to be a fond memory. Yet, for many, the idea of separation from home-- even for
a short while-- can seem stressful, at times, devastating. A child who may have
said nothing about it as the fateful day approaches, will panic, cry-- even
scream torturously-- while searching for the reassurance of a parent that has
been a familiar friend these first few years. And then there is the entire set
of parent reactions. They, too, experience tension during this transition. And
parents would love some reassurance; a lot of reassurance! Perhaps of the "Bill
Cosby" variety:
"So long, Mom, Dad. I'm going off to kindergarten now. Don't worry about me,
I'll be fine. I should be home at about-- oh-- twelve-thirty, one. On the other
hand, I may be a little late if I decide to go out after school and have a
little milk with the boys, so don't wait up."
However, most parents would settle for knowing their child arrived safely,
made some friends, and adjusted to the classroom atmosphere. Underlying the
tension created by this event is the fact that it represents a change. Whereas a
child can understand and predict events in his (or her) ongoing experience, a
change represents the "unknown." Outcomes are not predictable, the future is
dark, dangerous. And worse yet, Mom won't be there to light the way for me.
How many kindergarten- age children go to bed with all the lights turned off
and the bedroom door closed? Children are naturally cautious and pessimistic
about the unknown future. Let's face it, being in the dark is scary! By the time
a child is of school-age, most parents have had considerable experience lighting
a child's path. Smoothing the transition into the school environment is simply
an extension of this process. Telling a child, "there's nothing to be afraid of,
Mommy and Daddy are right outside-- now go to bed", will likely fail. However,
inspecting a child's room together in the light, helps desensitize him to the
location of objects, reducing the peril of the unknown during lights-out. But
just in case... there is always light in the hall. Thus,

  1. Verbal Behavior is just a lot of talk! Perform a dress- rehearsal.
    Visit the school with your child before classes begin. If he is to walk to
    school, take this route with him a few times. This being, The Country, he will
    most likely be taking a school bus. Try to arrange for him to board one and
    inspect it. At the least, take a walk to the school bus stop. If possible,
    introduce him to his teacher; the next-most important adult to suddenly enter
    his life. Together, show your child the location of various school functions
    such as lunch, art, the auditorium and bathroom. Lying in bed, a child is
    reassured knowing the layout of his room-- that things are ordered a certain
    way, always.
  2. Build a "chain" to link the unfamiliar with the familiar. A child
    knows how to dress-- even tie his shoes, eat break- fast, and talk with other
    children. However, he has never performed these skills on his way to school. By
    practicing them in a sequence, one becomes the occasion for the next; thereby
    creating a chain of activities that culminates with entering school. Take your
    child shopping for his first-day-of-school clothing. Help him prepare the
    clothes ahead of time. Enter the kitchen and discuss what he will have for
    breakfast. Walk out the door to the bus stop, practice saying good-bye. Often, a
    neighbor or friend will have older school children who can assist with in this
    transition by offering words of assurance in "kid-talk"; or even showing your
    child around school the first day. Ask one to come to your house the day before
    school to show him the ropes. An equally important part of the chain is the
    return home. Practice receiving your child from the bus with warm affection,
    followed by a delicious snack. Milk and cookies never tasted so good!