I've done a lot of difficult things as a parent, including but certainly not limited to: being pregnant and giving birth, enduring countless sleepless nights, changing poop-filled diapers, and learning how to handle emotional toddler tantrums. But the hardest thing I've probably ever done, so far, was send my oldest child to kindergarten. It almost broke me. I was worried, clueless, and, emotional about the fact that my baby was growing up. You better believe there are things every new kindergarten mom needs to hear, and, sadly, I feel like I didn't have the support network of other parents there to reassure me when I needed it the most. So as the new school year kicks into gear, I wanted to try to help other parents in a way I definitely would have appreciated.
First thing's first: everything turns out OK. This transition is just something your child — and you — have to go through. My second and youngest child recently enrolled in kindergarten and though that comes with its own set of Very Big Feelings, I felt like I was better prepared to handle everything. After all, I knew it was going to turn out OK, especially since I had the experience of sending one child to kindergarten already.
It's a lot, though, isn't it? It's a big step in and of itself, but it feels so symbolic, right? Up until now you've been their main "teacher." Certainly they've had others, like other parents, grandparents, cousins, daycare workers, nannies, and honorary aunts that have undoubtably saved your sanity a time or two. They may even have had a preschool teacher who helped pave the way for this very big First Day of school. But now their main teacher is their teacher. For seven hours a day, someone else is going to be molding them, influencing them, caring for them, watching over them, and introducing them to the world. That can be difficult to come to terms with, to be sure, but I promise you it's a good thing.
So with that in mind, and because we could all use a few kind words during those first few back-to-school days, here are some other things brand new kindergarten moms need to hear:
"Give Everything Time"
From the bus arriving when it's supposed to, to your "get out the door on time" routine, to your child's moods, to your own emotions, trust me when I say it all becomes easier and more manageable with time. These are some very big changes, emotional, practical, and otherwise, so of course it's going to take a while for everyone involved to get used to them. Don't think there's anything wrong with your or your kid if it's still not seamless a couple weeks in.
"The Entire School Is Full Of Professionals Who Know What They're Doing"
"How will my child know where they're going on the first day?!"
"How will they know how to buy lunch?"
"What if they can't find the bathrooms?"
"What if they don't know how to open their cup of yogurt and they go hungry?"
Fortunately, this school is full of adults who not only know all the necessary information, but are used to being on the lookout for kids who don't. These educators, volunteers, security guards, and others are used to explaining everything in a way a child can understand. Your kid may indeed be clueless, but they're in good hands.
"Your Child Will Get The Hang Of Things Pretty Quickly"
Thanks in no small part to all those dedicated professionals, of course, but don't underestimate the adaptability of children in general and your child in particular. They'll learn their routines and grow accustomed to the fact that things are done a particular way in school.
"Your Child Will Be Exhausted At The End Of The Day"
They'll be so tired, in fact, that there's a solid chance they'll take a nap for the first time in, like, ever. Maybe they'll be cranky most of the afternoon. Maybe they'll do that weird kid thing where the more tired they get the more hyper they get. This is normal and, chances are, as they get used to a long day at school it'll get better in time.
"Read Read Read Read Read"
If you weren't doing it before make an effort to get into the habit now. Because this is the year your child will be formally taught how to read and nothing is going to help them with that quite like you reading to them for at least 20 minutes a night. Not only is this an educational gift you can give your child but it's a great way to bond and relax at the end of the day.
"Your Child Will Make Friends"
This is something that a lot of parents worry about, and understandably. "What if my kid doesn't like the other kids. What if they don't like them? None of their preschool friends are in their class! What if the cliques are already set?"
Remember, kids are adaptable and they will absolutely make friends. In class, in the lunch room, in the cafeteria, and on the bus. Even the shy kids have a tendency to find one another (or connect with a friendly not-shy kid.)
"Your Child Will Make At Least One Friend Who You Don't Like"
It happens. Maybe it'll be a kid who isn't a great influence, or maybe it'll be one who isn't very nice but your kid doesn't seem to see that. Or maybe the other child is perfectly nice and well-behaved, but when you put them together with your child to two of them clash but, for some unknown reason, they can't seem to stay away from one another. My advice? Don't panic. Friends change up every year or so. This likely won't last.
""Be In Touch With The Teacher
OK, you don't want to inundate them with every concern and question that crosses your mind, but teachers appreciate parents asking questions, giving insight, and being a partner in their child's education. Go ahead and shoot them an email to see how things are going and what you can both do to either keep up the good work or help your child adjust and learn.
"Try To Be Aware Of What's Going On At The School"
Because the school can often provide access to resources, events, and other happenings that can be beneficial or, at the very least, just good old fashioned fun. From holiday parties to concerts to "how the hell are parents supposed to do this new math?" workshops, it's always a good thing to be a member of the school community with your child.
(Pro-tip: don't rely on your child bringing fliers home. For one thing, many schools are moving away from paper announcements. For another, kids are comically bad at getting those things home like they're supposed to. Check the school's website and online accounts. Also, see if your child's grade or class has formed a Facebook group or Slack chat that you can check to stay in the loop.)
"Something Will Happen Over The Course Of The Year That Will Break Your Heart"
This will be different for every parent, but it will happen. For me, it was the day my son told me he didn't want to wear pink anymore. It wasn't because anyone had said anything mean or shaming to him, but he could sense that the other kids thought it was unusual. Growing up is wonderful, but it's also full of heartbreaks, both great and small.
"Your Child Still Needs You"
Even as they become more independent, they still need you. They need your cuddles, your encouragement, your emotional support, and, yes, they will need you the night before some project is due and and now you have to go buy poster board to create a project about rainbows that you didn't hear about until 4:45 p.m. because of course you didn't.
"There Is So Much To Look Forward To"
Kindergarten may feel like the end of something, and I guess in a sense maybe it is, but it's also the beginning of an incredible new stage. Yes, the infancy and toddlerhood and the preschool years were wonderful (albeit tiring), and it's sad to see them go, but your child is growing in the most amazing ways and it's going to be a fun, wild, exciting, enriching, wonderful ride.
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