The first day at school isn't what it used to be. These days, by the time most children start formal education they're relatively comfortable with separation from the home and parent, says Jayne Singer, Ph.D., the clinical director of the Child and Parent Program at Boston Children's Hospital.
"Children who have had high-quality day care or preschool make a better transition to school both emotionally and socially," she says.
Still, even leaving a private play-based preschool to go to a public school is a big transition, and there's a lot parents can do to ease a child's stress with any environmental change. When it comes to easing anxiety, familiarity breeds comfort.
"Give the child guidance; show them pictures of their new classroom or school. A lot of schools have the good sense to hold open houses or have a welcome visit. Visit the school, visit the playground. Show them the classroom and where they will play. The sense of familiarity will ease anxiety."
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"Also," adds Dr Singer, "younger children do well with concrete reminders about the passage of time. Get a calendar and mark off the days until school starts. Turn it into a craft project. Say, make a flower and add a petal for each day."
One thing parents should watch for is transferring their anxiety. "Parents shouldn't assume a child is anxious or feels separation. Don't ask, 'Are you scared?' Let the child bring it up and if they do, say, 'Of course you are. I feel nervous when I do something new.'"
Parents should also get ready in advance
“Have a conversation with personnel at the school so you are prepared for the environment,” says Dr. Singer. “The more parents know about the school, the more authentic they are in offering guidance to the child. Tell your child they will have a chance to play, they will have a place to draw and paint. Give them concrete examples of what is there. Give them a vision of the classroom as a kind and supportive place.”