By Jodie Lynn
Each year at this time the media are full of authors, experts, doctors and clinicians doing what they do best: scaring the pants off a new crop of parents whose 5 year olds are entering academia.
Listening to yet another psychologist expound on the tensions, stresses and strains to be confronted, I pondered how they sound more like they are discussing deployment to Iraq, not enlistment in Kindergarten. Taking every shred of what should be excitement and joy and leaving behind uncertainty and fear, they produce a new batch of anal, compulsive, questioning, frightened Moms and Dads, who in turn telegraph all that fright and dread to their children.
Will Johnny like the teacher? Will the teacher like Johnny? Will Susie pee her pants? Will Susie get peed on by a classmate? Will Tommy eat his lunch? Will Tammy starve without her morning Goldfish? Will Jimmy share his crayons? Will Jamie miss the bus? Will Jamie miss me? And the big one, Is my baby ready?
I have two words for the experts, and for all the frightened, stressed out, tearful parents who will soon be dropping their child off and leaving them in school, LIGHTEN UP.
Yes, that's right. Lighten up. I have three daughters of my own, which means I have lived through three separate milestones as each has greeted their new teachers and newfound independence, and none of them has spontaneously combusted under the pressure. However, all around me, each of those three years, and each subsequent year as I pass the Kindergarten wing of their schools, I see drama and pathos, worthy of a Greek epic, or at least a series on HBO.
Clingy children, weepy parents, and frustrated teachers, most first days score a C- at best. But fear not, with a little personal homework of your own, you and your child can make the honor roll with an A+! Here are real world, real parent tips from my many years of application and observation.
Grow Up: Yes, you. Constantly bemoaning the fact that little Janie is becoming a big girl will not change the fact that she is. She is doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing, growing up, learning, moving forward. Let her. She cannot become a fully functioning child, adolescent, adult with a set of weepy parents agonizing over her every step. You have both worked for five years towards this milestone, celebrate!
Talk It Out: A big mistake so many parents make is in underestimating their child's ability to comprehend and process information. Children are intuitive, thoughtful, imaginative people and questions are always more scary than the answers that follow. Take advantage of orientation days and the fact that the schools are occupied with working administrators even before the school year gets underway. Walk them through their new environment so that first day is familiar, not foreign. And answer all questions honestly, don't fudge. Kids have built in BS detectors.
Watch Your Mouth: It is natural for you to be talking and be honest, whining, about this upcoming benchmark, to every person you know and meet. Just try not to do it in front of your child. Let them be excited, you be a walking Kleenex out of earshot.
Choices, choices: While you may think it is easier to simply make your way through the school supply aisle as quickly as possible (ok, it is), let your new Kindergartner hold his list and choose his own crayons, markers, lunchbox, etc. You will reinforce that he is ready for more grown up endeavors that require decision making. So if he agonizes for ten minutes over what color school box to buy, let him. If he is happy with his choices, he won't be able to wait to get them to school and show them off.
Static Cling: Despite all efforts to project joy and excitement about starting school, some children are naturally more clingy than others. Talk about the first day, and while being matter-of-fact, make it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that you cannot stay. Talk about how proud you are of him. Tell her how much fun she is going to have. Talk about eating lunch and snacks at school. You will be amazed how eating away from you is a huge attraction for a child. If your child needs an extra boost, have him help prepare a special treat for the entire class that he can present to the teacher when he goes in.
No Child Left Behind: The dominant real concern your child will have is how they will get back to your loving embrace at the end of their day. To both of you, I say, don't freak out. I have yet to attend a school where there is not a rock solid program for insuring your little one gets to the proper bus or car pool line for pick up each afternoon. Schools face this responsibility with utmost seriousness and are rigid in their rules. So explain to your child that each bus has a number and they will probably wear a card pinned to their clothes the first week or so, until they get comfortable with the routine. And if you will be picking them up in the car pool line, assure them that the teachers will stay with the children until each one is picked up.
Lights, Camera, Action: The big day is here, the camcorder is charged and your child is wearing her backpack to breakfast. Let excitement be the watchword! Children take all their cues from their parents and will walk into that school mirroring YOUR emotions. So smile for the camera, rehearse your lines ahead of time and play your part - that of adoring, yet confident parent of an adorable, yet confident Kindergartner.
Several No No's To Avoid
Finally, and I cannot stress this enough - don't cry. Even tears of happiness can throw off your child's feelings about that first day. If you must sob, say goodbye with a smile and walk directly to the principal's office. No, you're not in trouble. They just keep an extra supply of Kleenex on hand and will be waiting for you.
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