My 5-year-old daughter starts kindergarten this year and I am, quite frankly, not ready. She's all registered, we have the school supply list, she's eagerly waiting to meet her teachers and hop on a school bus, and I'm just trying not to cry. Of course I'm thrilled for her, but the overwhelming weight of this milestone makes it hard to breathe. And the thought that she might have a rough first day? That kills me even more. But luckily, teachers are teachers for a reason: they care. And the ways teachers help kids missing their parents at school will make you want to buy them more than a Starbucks gift card during the holidays.
If you have a little one heading off to that big brick school for the first time, you're probably feeling the same way as me: excited about a 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. block of time where I'm not having my work interrupted by shouts of, "MOMMY! LOOK AT WHAT I DREW! NOW LOOK! NOW LOOK AGAIN!" and also terrified that your child is going to cry most of the day and miss you. Your heart is walking around outside your body, right? And now it feels like it's cracking. That's why Romper reached out to teachers across the country to find out how they can help make this transition easier — for both you and your kids. Whether your child is overly confident about school or already crying about missing you, every teacher I spoke with had one big goal: to just be there for their students.
"I give lots of hugs," Georgia kindergarten teacher Kristina French tells Romper. "Seriously, I hug all day long. I let my babies know that it’s OK to miss mommy and daddy. I tell them that they miss them, too. I let them know that every time they think of mom/dad, that they can feel it and they think of them, too."
She says some of her students will bring in pictures "or a special lovey" until they feel more comfortable in the classroom, and she also has "special" stuffed animals she lets her students hold. But French makes the connection between parents and their brand new kindergartner even stronger by reaching out herself. "Sometimes I take a picture of them and send it to mom/dad, and then I’ll read their response."
I just have to pause here to say that if my child's kindergarten teacher is reading this, hi, I would like a photo every 10 minutes, thank you.
For some children, missing a parent goes deeper than just the few hours a day they're at school. Georgia high school English teacher Jennifer Modlin tells Romper that when she used to do after-school care until 6 p.m., she had kids from pre-K up through high school. And one little girl in pre-K was having a particularly rough day. "I just held her tight and I called her mom and let her talk to her," Modlin says.
In the first week of school, students bring in family pictures to decorate journals, and of course, lots of hugs and letting them share about their family.
But even if your child is beyond the kindergarten stage and well into their elementary career, they can still have moments of uncertainty. Georgia elementary school teacher Beth West tells Romper that before she became a mother herself, she didn't feel very "motherly" to her students. But even as a third-grade teacher, she has to reach into her mom reserves. "I have had lots of criers and missing mom, even at the beginning of third grade," West says, but the key is to offer "lots of hugs and reassurance."
Third-grade Georgia teacher Jamie Roy says the same thing: "I've allowed students to draw a picture/make a card about their favorite thing they did, and even call or Skype during lunch or recess. In the first week of school, students bring in family pictures to decorate journals, and of course, lots of hugs and letting them share about their family."
If you haven't thought about printing any recent family pictures, now may be the time to do it. Several teachers mention this, including Deetz Whichard Hanna, a South Carolina Montessori teacher, who says that in her classroom, all of the children bring in family pictures to put in frames around the room. "If they miss their family, they can take their picture to their desk or work mat with them."
But reassuring a student isn't just a one-on-one thing. Hanna says it's a classroom effort, and at the beginning of the year, "we read lots of stories about starting school and about how parents come back after school (thanks for the song, Daniel Tiger). We use gentle distraction after acknowledging the feelings: 'It’s hard and sad to miss mommy. Would you like to make a picture for her so you can give it to her after school?' And in worst-case scenarios, I will sit with them and let them cry while I rub their backs (if they want me to)."
Every teacher Romper spoke with said that they are never dismissive with a student — they listen, they hug, they reassure, and they do their best to make sure a child feels comfortable. Bubba Brownley, who works for Teach For America in Texas, tells me that while he doesn't deal with this a lot in his own classroom, he makes sure the students who are feeling sad know that it's normal. He tells his students, “Lots of kids miss their families during the day," and reassures them that those same kids made it through, too. “In a few weeks, you won’t be able to believe that you missed home so much because of all the fun you will be having," Brownley tells his students.
Basically? Your kids are well taken care of. Teachers are fully prepared for a student who is missing their parent, and they are ready with hugs, special stuffed animals, and communication to you if things get really tough. If you want to make sure that safety starts at home, French says she knows a lot of parents read The Kissing Hand before that first day of school — the story of little Chester Raccoon who's scared to go to school until his mother kisses the palm of his hand, and reminds him to hold it to his cheek when he's scared. She adds that some parents spray their perfume or cologne onto their child so they can have the familiar scent of their parents all day. Roy says she's also had students wear a special bracelet — with mom wearing a matching one — during the first week of school.
So now I need to go to the bookstore and the jewelry shop. And also buy my kid's kindergarten teacher whatever she wants.