Taking the Stress out of Kindergarten

advice for parents and kids getting ready for day one (and after!)
children school stress kindergarten
© DepositPhotos / unguryanu

Whether your child has been in daycare every day for the last three years or has been home with you, kindergarten is a huge new chapter in their life. They’ve officially moved up to the big kids’ school, and with that comes some pretty big changes. Suddenly there are new rules, new schedules, new teachers, and new friends. And even though you feel like you’ve got them prepared for the big day, it can still mean a cascade of emotions that may spill over in ways you didn’t anticipate.

Preparing for the first day of school

While some children are able to adapt to big changes with little effect and can walk into school on the first day without looking back, for others, the first day of school can be quite traumatic. It’s scary, it’s big, it’s noisy, and it seems like everyone else knows exactly what they are supposed to do. It can feel overwhelming and very stressful. Even if your child has previously been in daycare, starting kindergarten can still cause some upset and worry.

Spending time before school starts teaching some basic self-care skills can go a long way in helping your child to feel more confident going into uncomfortable situations. Making sure they can manage zippers and buttons, practice simple hygiene exercises like wiping after using the bathroom and proper hand washing, and are able to both pack and unpack their lunch containers can all go a long way in building their confidence and reducing anxiety. Further, encouraging them to master independent play and feel comfortable exploring new territory will help them to feel less overwhelmed and lost in their new school setting.

Tips for managing school stress

Starting school can be so overwhelming for your child that you may see behaviours resurface you thought were all in the past. When some children experience stressful changes, they can regress in skills at which they are already proficient. Some may withdraw and seem to become a shell of their former selves, while others may become aggressive or exhibit more outbursts than usual. Temper tantrums, bathroom accidents, hitting, biting, or being quick to cry may be driven by underlying turmoil related to starting school.

If there have been no other major changes that may have prompted such reactions, it’s probably a safe bet that they’re having a tough time settling into this new routine. As parents, we’d love for our children to be able to quickly adjust to changes, but it’s completely normal for kids to need time to process new situations. Helping them through the adjustment period by patiently providing the emotional support they need is vital to getting them back on track and eased into the school routine. Reducing their stress load by providing healthy meals, quality sleep, opportunities for talking, unscheduled play, time spent in nature, and a good morning routine will help give them the tools they need for school success.

Find time to share feelings

Although you might want to know how your child’s day was the second they walk through the door after school, let them take the lead and decide when they’re ready to talk. Some may need some time to decompress after a long day and will only open up later in the evening. Being responsive and flexible to your child’s rhythms will help—this might mean pushing back dinner by an hour or spending some extra time cuddled up in bed together. Try to have dinner prepared ahead of time and limit scheduled activities those first few weeks so you can focus on slowing down, connecting, and taking the time to really listen to your little one. Being able to express their feelings and have the opportunity to talk with your full attention and without limitations will help your child more than you can imagine.

Get plenty of sleep

The first few weeks of school are exhausting for most kids, and especially for those who are attending for the first time. Even if your child was in care previously, school is a whole new ballgame! Making sure they are still getting 11 to 12 hours of sleep every night will not only ensure they’re ready to learn the next day, it can also help your child better cope with their emotions.

Leave a love note

Let your little one know you’re thinking of them and help bridge the separation, even when they’re at school. Cut out a heart shape from paper and write “I love you” on it. Pop it into your child’s pocket before they leave for school. This way, when they’re missing you or are in need of some encouragement, they can rub the heart between their fingers and know your love is with them wherever they go. You can also include special notes or stickers in their lunchboxes or even send them with your photo that they can look at it when they miss you.

Starting school can be an emotional time: it’s exciting, stressful, and scary, but it can also be so much fun! Making sure your child is well-rested, well-fed, and confident in your love and support will make them feel much more ready to take on the challenges of their new adventures in kindergarten. The friends they will make, the teachers they will love, and the adventures they will have will more than make up for the anxiety of the first few weeks.

School stress management for parents

Whether it’s your first or fourth child starting school, it’s still an emotional rollercoaster! Your baby is getting on the bus or marching bravely through the school doors without you. You will no longer be in charge for much of their day as you hand the reigns over to the teaching staff. This can all trigger a lot of mixed feelings.

If you are used to having your child home with you, starting kindergarten can create some anxiety over the fact that you are no longer in control of their every minute. Not knowing who they are playing with, what conversations they are having, and even how often they take bathroom breaks can preoccupy your mind. If they have been in daycare, you are probably used to getting daily reports, having smaller class sizes, and knowing all their teachers and little friends.

School can feel bigger and more anonymous when you do not have the same rapport as you did with your previous caregivers. But you can diminish that gap by getting involved in the school, attending orientation events, volunteering when possible, and being part of a parent committee as a way to get to know the school and staff and alleviate much of your worry. Also, by being engaged in your child’s school life, learning some of their classmates’ names, and helping with some of the new concepts they are learning, you’ll reinforce the sense that you are still connected even when you’re not around!

You may also enjoy: The Emotional Impact of Starting Kindergarten5 Ways to Beat Back to School Stress, and Back to School Sleep Tips.