Sending your child to school is one of those parenting milestones that hits you right in the feels. It's nearly impossible to believe your baby is standing in front of you with a backpack because you could swear it was just yesterday you brought him home from the hospital. But it's also an exciting time. Your baby is blossoming into a big kid, and going to school ushers in a new chapter for you both. But what are the signs your child is adjusting well at school once they get there? They can vary from child to child, but paying attention to the seven signs below can help ease your mind (or clue you in that something may be amiss).
As with most things in parenting, it's important to remember that every child moves at their own pace. And while there are certainly things parents can do to help make the transition to school easier, even if you do everything "perfectly," it could still take your child a while to settle in to the new environment and structure of school.
It may also take you a while to adjust to not having as much information as you're used to. If your child is heading into elementary school, it can be unsettling not to get constant feedback from the school/teachers as you did during preschool. But, according to the experts I spoke to, there are still ways to find out how things are going when you're not around.
1. They look forward to going to school
Parenting and youth development expert Deborah Gilboa, MD, aka "Dr. G." tells Romper that it's a good sign if, "even though your child may be tired or a bit grouchy in the morning, when you tell them it's time to put their shoes on so they can get to school, they are motivated to do it." It may sound simple, but if your child looks forward to going to school, chances are, they're adjusting well.
2. They give positive details about school
And no, not just a nod and a cursory "it was good" response to your question, "How was school today?" Dr. G says the best way to get information on how your child is doing at school is to treat them "like a restaurant critic." She has a slew of questions for parents to ask that will actually get answers you can use, such as, "I have a friend who is thinking about moving to our neighborhood, would you recommend your school for their kids?" Then follow-up with why/why not? Genius.
She calls this, "not loading the cannon," explaining: "When you give a kid a question, whether they're four or 14, such as, 'Do you love school,' they know the answer you're looking for. Instead, ask them things that don't have a 'right answer' for a more accurate gauge of how they're doing."
3. They have new interests
Noticing whether or not your child has new interests that weren't introduced by you is another way to tell how they're adjusting. Dr. G is careful to note though, this doesn't necessarily mean interests that come from the classroom only. Yes, an early interest in science or math would be great, but even if your kid is, as she puts it, "learning about a new game or movie they hear about on the bus or from their friends on the playground, chances are they're having positive interactions at school."
4. They're showing resilience
One of the most important things Dr. G wants parents to keep in mind about a child adjusting well to school is that they will experience challenges, but the important thing is "that they feel supported and equipped to handle them." She explains that she doesn't want everything to go well for elementary-aged children, "because they will have zero skills when it comes to middle school, where challenges are inevitable."
It can be so hard to watch your child go through something difficult at school. But not immediately stepping in, or thinking your child is at the wrong school when every little challenge arises, will help teach them resiliency: one of the most important life lessons around.
5. They talk about their friends
Education advocate and parenting coach Meg Flanagan M.Ed says that whether your child talks about a multitude of friends, or even just one, hearing your child discuss other kids they've connected with in a positive way is a good indicator that they're making strides towards adjusting in the school environment.
6. They're still "your kid"
Flanagan is careful to note that school isn't a "magic bullet." If your child wasn't an eager reader before starting school, they probably aren't going to immediately turn into one just because they're at school. But that doesn't mean they aren't adjusting. "What you're really looking for is to see that your kid is still 'your kid.'"
So, if your child is all of a sudden turning to comfort foods such as sweets when they haven't before, that may be a sign something is going on at school. However if your kiddo has always had a sweet tooth, and they still do, chances are, that's normal for them. The same is true for sleep patterns and mood fluctuations, she notes. Whatever the status quo was before starting school should more or less be the same after they've had time to settle in.
7. They're advancing at their level
Lastly, Flanagan says you can look to academic evidence to see how well your child is adjusting, though this doesn't mean judging it as "one size fits all." "Yes," she explains, "You want to see that there's growth in reading and other subjects, but it's all relative to their individual level." In other words, perhaps one of the best ways to gauge whether your child is adjusting well to school is to stop comparing them to others or what you think they "should" be achieving and instead focus on they're unique journey.