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Making the Transition When Kids Head Off to school

You’ve been gathering all the supplies with your little one: crayons, markers, erasers, a ruler, a pencil case– maybe a backpack with your child’s favorite cartoon character prominently displayed.

Where did the time go?

Your child is getting ready to go off to school. Maybe they seem ready, but you definitely aren’t. Or, perhaps the reverse is true! Even if both of you are ready for this new stage, it is a process of transition and can come with a lot of bumps in the road.

Change Is Hard 

You’ve gotten into a routine that works for you (most of the time), and now those routines will shift. It can be a tough transition when your family must come to a new sense of “normal.” Try to be kind and patient with your child and YOURSELF as you navigate through the new waters of school together. This change could entail earlier wake-up times or harder deadlines such as getting your child fed, dressed, and physically at school by 8:30 am. Whether your child was in preschool or not, starting kindergarten has a new set of roles and expectations. Giving yourself the space and leniency to adjust is key here.

Emotional Check-In

School can bring up a lot of fears in children and parents too. Some kids adjust well and quickly to new environments whereas others may take a bit longer to become comfortable enough to be themselves. To help ease this transition for your child, emotional check-ins can help. Simply asking about how their day was can be a good start, but also be sure to try to introduce some feeling words to describe emotions. That way your child can get more practice trying to tell you about their inner experience. One great way to approach this is to start a routines of listing 2 positives and 1 stress at the end of each day. Asking questions like “where there any scary moments, happy moments, confusing moments in your day?” “If you would like to change one thing about tomorrow what would it be? How can I help you make tomorrow better?” Or starting the mornings with “What are you looking forward to today?” This will help your child develop good communication skills while also having them becoming used to talking about their experiences at school. If you find you need some help in building your child’s emotional resources a children’s counselor can help you through this. Teaching both you and your child ways to think through and express emotions/experiencing in healing ways.

Parents need emotional check-ins too! You just want your children to be safe, happy, and health, but having the focus only on your child can be unhealthy for you. Take some time for self-reflection to see what your child going off to school brings up for you. It likely can be a mix of many different emotions such as: excitement, relief, and fear. There are no wrong emotions or reactions to this. It is a process for you to work through. 

Common fears and worries when kids go off to school

If you’re experiencing any of these, you are not alone:

  • How will I manage working and being engaged with my child’s schooling? 
  • Will they make friends? 
  • Will they adjust well? 
  • How will they do academically?  
  • How will we all adjust to this new stage? 
  • What if I don’t like the teacher? 
  • Will they be safe?  
  • What if they pick up new bad habits?  
  • What about all the germs at school, will my kid come home sick? 
  • Will my child’s special needs be met?

Finding support and sharing experiences with other parents or more formally through counseling can be tremendously helpful when going through the school-age transition. Authentic interactions can’t be replaced and are absolutely worth your time. Scrolling through social media pages and seeing pristine (and likely photoshopped) pictures of perfect parents and perfect families doesn’t usually do a whole lot for your self-esteem or your energy. Investing the time that you do have in things that will enrich YOU has a much better return.

Free time?! Plan for Success!

That’s right. It’s okay to allow yourself to believe you will succeed. If you find yourself worried about becoming “that mom” who drops her kids off at school while looking frumpy in pajamas, other parents likely share that same self-judgment. No one is perfect and it’s ok not to have everything run smoothly all the time; very few people, if any, can actually manage it. And if everything always went off without a hitch, there wouldn’t be much learning taking place or room for growth. You don’t expect your child to do something perfectly the first time that they try, so applying the perfectionism standard to yourself isn’t helpful or fair. Try to treat yourself with the same caring and patience as you would a child, learning how to do something for the first time.

While your child is at school, you may be tempted to catch up on a bunch of housework or prepare for the next day. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, planning can decrease the load that you will have to face tomorrow. However, if you spend all your free time planning and centering your world around your child, there isn’t much time or energy left for yourself. Practice allowing yourself to attend to your own wants and needs, for any amount of time, no matter how short. Maybe that’s taking a thirtyminute walk or going to the Y after dropping off your kid at school. Schedules and life circumstances can present roadblocks to self-care, but counselors can help you see some wiggle room that you may not have noticed before.

Creative outlets can be especially rejuvenating,
such as
  • art (coloring/drawing/collages/painting)  
  • music  
  • writing  
  • photography, etc.

Find something that you are passionate about and that gives you energy 

Many parents feel they “lose themselves” somewhere along the parenting process. This is understandable, but it does not have to be your reality. You can learn to continue to nurture yourself as well as your child. Children look up to their parents and model their behavior. If you want your child to care about themselves, show them that you care about yourself and your needs!  

There is no better role model for that than you, and you deserve it. 

If you find your are struggling with this transition more then you anticipated, reach out and talk about it with people who support you. If that is difficult for you counseling can be a great option. Explore our therapists to see if one of these best fits your needs. Call us at 724-654-9555 or complete our Get Started form and we can reach out to you and help you through this transition.  

Blog Credit: Natalie Drozda, MA, LPC is a PH.D student in Counseling Education and Supervision at Duquesne University & therapist at Angelus Therapeutic Services