School: Prepare for the First Day

Even if your child has been in child care, the first day of "real" school is an important event often marked by tense anticipation. Getting your child off to a good start the first few weeks of school will build future positive attitudes.

If your child is about to start school for the first time, you may find the following ideas helpful.

  1. Visit the school a few times before the start of classes.

    Get to know the school on the weekend. A big, new school is less intimidating on a quiet Saturday or Sunday. Walk or drive the route your child will take, look at the playground, walk around the school, and even look into a window. This helps your child begin get used to the new environment. Try to find out the name of your child's teacher. If possible, let your child see the classroom, bathroom, and lunch area and meet the teacher before the first day of school. Many schools have specific times when you can visit. Ask for a school handbook and class schedule. Talk about school activities and rules with your child so he knows what is expected while at school.

  2. Shop together for school shoes, clothing, and supplies.

    Let your child select his or her own backpack or lunch box and other supplies from the list given you by the school. Put the school supplies in the backpack together.

  3. Allow your child to feel scared about starting school.

    Do not try to dismiss or ignore your child's feelings of fear. Point out that children are sometimes scared when they first go off to school because they miss their parents and do not know what to expect. Some children even cry a little at first. Tell your child that the teacher knows a lot about children, and will take very good care of your child. Talk about the things your child will enjoy about school. Talk about the feelings you had during your first day of school, and tell something funny or positive that happened to you. Finally, if you work outside the home, try to arrange a few extra hours at home during your child's first week, if possible.

  4. Prepare your child at home.

    Try to arrange to have your child meet a target=_top classmate before school starts. That way, your child will see a friendly face on the first day. You can relieve some anxiety by playing school at home. It also helps to talk in specific terms about what will happen. Talk about how your child will get to and from school. Talk to your child about what he or she is likely to do during the day and what you will be doing while your child is away. Tell your child what will happen once school is over for the day. Read books together about other children's school experiences.

  5. Try not to make a big deal about the first day of school.

    Your child's first day of school is indeed a milestone. Do prepare and provide reassurance, but do not treat it as a world-shaking event. Your child will reach the first day of school with less fear if it is treated as a normal part of everyday life. Put a note in your child's lunchbox or a sticker on his notebook that makes him smile.

  6. Once at school, do not force your child to participate.

    Allow your child to get used to the new place by observing rather than taking part. Your child is likely to resist if you push too hard.

  7. Make your good-byes short and visible.

    If you do take your child to the classroom, do not try to sneak away while your child is doing an activity. Always say good-bye. When you say good-bye, act casual and upbeat. If your child protests, stay calm and state firmly that there is no other choice. Let your child know that you will see him at the end of the day.

  8. After school, ask about your child's day.

    Ask questions such as "What happened at school. Did you make new friends? Did you have fun? What did you do?" Show special attention and affection. Let your child know that you are proud of her.

Written by Donna Warner Manczak, PhD, MPH.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-30
Last reviewed: 2009-12-01
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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