First Day Tears
By Ellen D. Begley, MAEd, RN, NCC, LPC

It’s the first day of school and there are tears on the way to school. The tears are those of Mom and Dad, and maybe the young student. I was a school counselor for ten years. For the first five of those years, I watched with interest as the kindergarteners and their parents experienced the “letting go” process on the first day of school. Then my oldest child started kindergarten! I will never forget telling him good-bye that morning, giving my husband all the directions to the school (as if he didn’t know), and driving to work, crying the whole way.

There are some things parents can do to help their child begin school with a smile.

As with anything new, the more you know, the more confident you can be. Find out as much information as you can to reassure your child.
Take your child to the school ahead of time and ask questions. You can arrange to meet the administrators and look around the school. Take a tour of the school, if possible, and show him where the bathrooms, the playground, the cafeteria, and classrooms are located. If a class roster is available, look for familiar names and plan play dates of phone calls with those children.
Most schools have a “meet the teacher” day. Try to determine what will be a regular schedule for your kindergartener. Will he need a backpack? Will he have a cubby in which to put his things? Will he be able to bring a special comfort item, such as a blanket or favorite animal to school? What is the delivery and pick-up routine?
Play pretend school. By watching play, you may be able to pick up clues of some anxieties ahead of time and then create an opportunity to talk with your child about those worries or pressures.
Practice with the backpack and lunch box.
Begin a routine at home ahead of time, if possible. Particularly, if your child is riding a bus or needing to leave home early, you may wish to start the “early bed- early rise” routine to make the first day easier.
On the first day of school, be excited, at least in front of him. Your enthusiasm will give him the positive clues about school and make things easier.
Always say good-bye to your child, BUT make it brief. The long, drawn out good-byes send the child mixed signals, and the new student will not really be sure if and when the parent is leaving, thus making the separation anxiety worse. You might want to develop a special good-bye routine, such as a special handshake.

On that memorable first day, my husband called to tell me that everything was great, at least for my son. By the end of the first week, I was about to put away the Kleenex and realize that all really was OK. One more milestone behind us, and many more ahead of us.