Fort Worth, Texas,
10:39 AM

My child’s first day of kindergarten

Will your child be one of these types?

My son’s first day of school is coming up … as in his first day of kindergarten. He did two days a week of preschool. which more or less I took without a hitch, but this somehow seems infinitely more epic and life changing. Some children and parents handle this transition without a problem, for others it can be a bit more challenging. Let’s talk about some of the different types of children and their first day experiences.

The screaming-leg-hanger-on-er

I know there are parents who are terrified of how their child will do on their first day of school. They are picturing their children crying and hanging on to a leg shouting, “Mommy! Don’t leave me here!” My heart goes out to those families because that must be really difficult. It seems painful for the child and is probably the most painful on mom or dad who is attempting to pry themselves away. Then, they have to spend the whole day worrying if their child is OK or building a need for therapy from their mounting sense of abandonment.

Here are some tips:

  1. This behavior might be demonstrating some separation anxiety Talk through the drop-off period and the day with your child until you are both sick of talking about it. One of the best methods for combatting anxiety is to be prepared.
  2. If possible, send the parent who is less likely to cause this reaction early on. Sometimes it’s mom and sometimes it’s dad. If your child can make an easy break with one, but not the other, let that parent try to help during those early days until the child sees that school isn’t such a terrible place.
  3. Make a quick break. Trying to coerce children to say they love you and give you 1,000 kisses only makes things worse. A quick goodbye and we’ll see you soon should suffice.

A quick note of support: Ultimately, you may do everything right and this may still happen to you. Try to remember that their behavior at this extremely stressful moment does not define your ability as a parent. Teachers are used to seeing this. Most of them probably see it every single year in a child or two.

The quiet, but compliant child

I would bet that many kids fall into this category. They aren’t exactly sure what to think about school. They are a little annoyed about their first day of school outfit and a little more annoyed about the fact that they had to take pictures wearing it, holding a sign that says “First Day of School.” (What’s Instagram mom?) They are not openly upset about you leaving them, but they may seem a little anxious.

Here are some tips:

  1. They might appreciate it if you walk them into class the first few days and see what they have been up to for a minute or two.
  2. Let them know what they are feeling is normal. “It’s OK to be afraid. But every day you go, it will get easier.”
  3. This is another instance where a quick, clean break is good. After the child is settled in, say goodbye and leave. No need to make every drop off day sappy … just treat it like it is no big deal.

The “see you later, dad; or not. Whatever it’s cool” child

My child might fall into the previous category, but I have a pretty strong feeling he will fit here. He seems really excited about school and I hope that is actually the case on the day of. I plan to give him lots of latitude to change his mind that day because with 5 year olds, you never know what to expect.

For this child, these tips are more for mom and dad:

  1. Keep it together yourself, if you can. Your big boy or girl is growing up and independent. That is actually the goal of parenting. No one wants their college age child to be holding onto their leg at the dorm so you can check that off your parenting accomplishment list.
  2. Don’t take it personally. They still love you (for now) and still want you around (occasionally).

There are many more first day of school personalities that your child could show, these are just a sampling. The best advice I can give from hearing back to school stories for years is to be flexible. Come back next week to see if I can follow my own advice. I’ll try not to cry the first day he asks me to stay in the truck while he walks in …



About the author

Justin Smith, M.D., is a Cook Children's pediatrician in Lewisville . He attended University of Texas, Southwestern Medical School and did his pediatric training at Baylor College of Medicine. He joins Cook Children's after practicing in his hometown of Abilene for four years. He has a particular interest in development, behavior and care for children struggling with obesity. In his spare time, he enjoys playing with his 3 young children, exercising, reading and writing about parenting and pediatric health issues.

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