Thayer Allyson Gowdy
The Big Building
What Your Child Thinks: "Wow, this place is huge! What if I get lost?"
Calm Those Concerns: Most schools have an orientation; if yours doesn't, call and ask for a tour. Explore fun areas like the library, gym, and art and music rooms. Let your child know that she'll never be walking the hallways alone; a teacher will take her where she has to go.
What Your Child Thinks: "The teacher sure has a lot of rules about where things go and how I should behave. I hope I don't get in trouble."
Calm Those Concerns: Remind her that many school rules -- no interrupting, no back talk, no hitting, no yelling -- are the same ones she already follows at home. You may also want to snap a photo of your child and her teacher together at orientation. Post it on the fridge so she becomes more familiar with this new important role model who is entering her life.
The Lunch Area
What Your Child Thinks: "What if I can't open my thermos. Or I drop my tray?"
Calm Those Concerns: If your child is bringing her own lunch, use easy-to-open containers that she's practiced with beforehand. Tuck plenty of napkins and an occasional note or a surprise like stickers into her lunchbox. To familiarize your kid with cafeteria-style settings, you might eat at a few similar-type restaurants over the summer. Show her how it works: You take a tray, silverware, and food as you make your way down the line.
What Your Child Thinks: "I don't know anyone. Who will I play with?"
Calm Those Concerns: Ask for a list of your child's new classmates and arrange a playdate or two during the weeks before school begins. Seeing a familiar face on the first day will help your child transition to the new setting. Reassure her that she's not the only one in class who's nervous about making friends and offer a few suggestions, such as: "Wouldn't it be fun if you asked a classmate to kick a ball with you tomorrow at recess?"
What Your Child Thinks: "I'm not used to going to the bathroom with other people. What if the stall door won't lock? Or worse, I get trapped. And what if I have an accident?"
Calm Those Concerns: Remind your child that he's not on his own -- that his teacher is there and if he's unsure about something, he can ask for help. Choose elastic-waist pants to make bathroom breaks a breeze. And don't make a fuss if he has an accident: Little kids often get wrapped up in their activities and don't realize how badly they need to go until it's too late. Your child will keep a change of clothes in his cubby for this very reason.
Originally published in the September 2009 issue of Parents magazine.
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