Back to school can be an exciting time for kids. They have new backpacks, shoes and are joyfully nervous to meet their new teachers – the adults they will spend their days with. This excitement is normal and a healthy part of going back to school.
Just as the first days of school are exciting for kids, the days that follow can often be the most challenging. This is not unusual but we at KinderTown, were curious to why this happens.
Thankfully, Dr. Mark McKee had some insights into this behavioral progression kids go through. He calls it, “The Kindergarten Freakout” and any parent going through it understands how difficult this transition can be.
After dealing with a kindergarten child’s excited anticipation of beginning “real school,” parents are often confused and shocked after the first two weeks of school have passed and their previously “excited about school child” now states, “I hate school!” and/or resists leaving the house or getting on the bus or out of the car. Parents are also shocked to hear from their child’s teacher that there is a beginning concern of emotional and/or behavioral problems.
The most common reason for such dramatic changes is simply that “reality” has set in. Whereas previous to school beginning, children are excited about their own self-created (and sometimes parent, sibling, and peer supported) fantasies of what school will be like. While most kids have attended pre-school and have likely been in some type of daycare, kindergarten is still a new experience with new expectations and demands for performance not previously encountered.
Routine sets in and what were once (not so long ago) days filled with freedom of choice in terms of activities and perhaps who one spent time with are now filled with a “morning routine” and “circle time” as well as introductions to materials not of one’s choosing and perhaps peers that “don’t fit.” Such experiences are not entirely uncommon and children react with emotional and behavioral responses which may at times be responded to critically. When this happens, a child may feel that they’ve lost the support of parents and teachers which they desperately need during this fragile transition from early childhood to “student.”
Tips for Helping Kids Deal with the Back-to-School Transition
1. LOVE LOVE LOVE
Take time for reading books, singing songs and extra hugs. Your little one has probably never experienced this level of uncertainty and stress before and you need to help them cope. That means Dad and Mom might have broken hearts, but you are giving your child skills for coping with the unknown. There is not too much love to be given in these situations!
Create a very structured routine from morning to night for your little one. This routine will help him have confidence in what is happening from moment to moment. Even if he struggles with going to school, the routine will provide a stable environment for the other moments of the day. You might even consider printing out images and organizing the routine on a poster so that your child can check and you can talk with him about what is happening throughout the day.
3. Pocket Parents
It’s important to acknowledge your child’s feelings and help her understand that she is feeling sad or angry and that she can help herself feel better. Give her a tool, like a family picture or a kiss on a piece of paper, that she can take to school with her. During the day when your little one feels sad, she can look at the picture or give a quick kiss to help her cope.
A wonderful book for helping kids cope with the “Kindergarten Freak Out” is The Kissing Hand.
Dr. Mark McKee is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and author of Raising a Successful Child: The Manual. His private practice provides a range of psychological services for children, adolescents and their families, serving the Naperville, Illinois and Chicago-area suburbs since 1992. He enjoys running, gourmet cooking and spending time with his family.