How Do I Help My Child with the Transition to Kindergarten?
Change is just plain hard. I still remember sobbing as a child when my parents sold our big, beautiful, brown 1975 Volvo Van. Then, when we moved away from our old, yellow farmhouse as a teenager, I shed a few more tender tears. Even as an adult, I still struggle with the changing seasons in my life. When something is good, you just want to hold on. Ironically, sometimes good turns to better with a life transition. Or, if not better…it is just a different version of really good.
Case in point. Kids are so darn cute when they are little. So innocent and beautiful. Then, one day they turn big. Just like that. Big kids with big opinions and big mouths. Not so cute anymore. It took me several years to just START getting comfortable with having big kids. I longed and longed for them to stay little and cute. Now mine are no longer babies. No longer even toddlers. My youngest is in Kindy and my oldest is twelve. Major life transitions for us. Lots of emotional adjustment for Mom.
One unexpectedly bumpy transition for us has been my baby entering Kindy. I was thinking, “Piece of cake”. She was thinking, “I’m big. I’ve got this.” Then comes Day 2 of Kindergarten. Tears on the crosswalk while sisters are comforting her. Day 3 she refuses to leave the car. Day 4 she walks up to the door and then digs in her heels and bursts into tears. Day 5 the teacher on sidewalk duty has to arm-cuff her so she doesn’t escape and run back to mom — all the while she is screaming at the top of her lungs, tears flying while all the other sweet Kindergartners gawk in wide-eyed wonder.
Meanwhile, at home she wets her bed for the first time ever! And, she refuses to sleep by herself. Instead, she wants mom right by her side and her hand held while falling asleep. Ironically, the wild ride we are having with our just turned 5-year-old is really a wonderful picture of how we ALL feel when we deal with transition. Whether we are kids or adults, life transitions are just no fun. The before and after are fine, but that ride feels much like a roller coaster!
So, for any of you moms out there dealing with your child’s transition to Kindergarten — or ANY transition with one of your kids for that matter — hang on for your life. This too shall pass! In the meantime, here are some tips to help you along the journey:
Present Change in a Positive Light
Neeley, one of our faithful contributors and mother of five (soon to be six) has ample experience navigating her children through transition. Their family has traveled for many years, both domestically and internationally and have lived in a number of locations. Neeley tries to stay overwhelmingly positive. Her goal is to always to present each new challenge/transition to them in a positive light and focus on talking a lot about the good points of each new life event.
Our words as parents have such tremendous impact on our children. When we travel internationally we often come across horrible bathrooms. Each time I scan the bathroom and I look for any glimmer of redemption in that bathroom. In one particularly dirty and smelly bathroom in Nepal, I saw that there were a few tiny, decorative blue stones on the sink. I immediately pointed out how lovely these were and my children ooohed and aaahed. Because of our focus on those little stones, we were able to overlook the grime and the smell of the bathroom. As a result of my constant prompting to look for the positive things (especially in bathrooms when we travel), my kids now point out to me the little, cute things they see in every new bathroom.
Talk, Talk, Talk
Before I had kids I somehow believed I would be able to say something once to my children and then be done with it. A good friend of mine told me once that the best piece of advice she had was to talk things over with your child — again and again and again. Some kids will need more. Some less. But, if they are struggling with their emotions they will benefit greatly from expressing to you what they can and having a safe place to be themselves.
Neeley says she always allows her kiddos to work through their feelings. As they talk, Mom can encourage them to consider the positive, ask God for help and be thankful.
My twelve-year old simply needs to express her emotions sometimes. Once they are out, things just get better. Sometimes the conversation between parent and child fills a need that no one even knew was there! A simple moment of love and connection during a stormy season.
Neeley also spends time thanking God, very specifically and frequently, for every good thing any of the kids can think of about any given new situation. For example: New baby will be our best buddy. I get a new bed in a new house. I am going to meet some really neat, new friends in Kindergarten. She believes that teaching kids to thank God for everything is a huge weapon in combating negativity without them even realizing it. Being thankful also helps the parents, too!
I find that if you think about what you are thankful for, it doesn’t give you the space to focus on the fearful or sad things. With a 5-year-old it can be very easy to redirect attention. Just remember, you will have to do it again and again.
Meet Your Child Right Where He Is At
My little 5-year old needed a bit of extra love during our Kindergarten transition. I changed her bed a few times. I slept by her side a few times. We whipped out the daily schedule and reviewed it in detail every morning before school. We started a little “star chart” and she earned stars for going to school peacefully. She even got to do extra video games for having a good day at school. Good parenting means listening to your child’s needs and being willing and ready to bend a little here and there to meet them. This builds trust between the two of you and helps your child to feel safe. Remember, the extra bits of love and grace won’t be necessary forever.
My child’s wonderful Kindergarten teacher has an excellent way of getting to the heart of her student’s emotional challenges. When my little one burst into tears one morning, her teacher immediately asked, “What’s wrong?” My daughter answered that she didn’t like school. Her teacher then asked, “What part of school don’t you like?” With that one question, she honed in on the core issue. My little one replied, “Recess, because I have no one to play with.” The teacher went on to give her a few very specific tasks to do during recess in order to find a few friends to play with. My daughter was very happy. No more tears!
When my friend’s little one entered Kindy, she just fell apart. Her brilliant teacher asked for a picture of mom, laminated it, and put it in her child’s pencil box. Whenever her child got sad, she pulled out the picture and looked at it. Fun, simple idea!
As moms we sometimes need to dig a little to find out what specific issue is at the heart of the matter. If we can find out this important piece of information, we can begin to work on solutions.
Finally, remember that little people are just like us. Their fears are real. Their concerns are valid. They are processing and developing and trying to come to terms with new things, just as we do as adults. Remember how much anxiety you have had when entering into something new: new job, new school, new relationship, learning a new skill. These are difficult things even for adults to navigate. If we are extremely patient with our kids we will help them to feel safe, to feel heard and to know they are loved. This is by far the most important gift we can give them as they are exploring new waters and major life transitions.
Mommy Medicine is a group of moms that love sharing tricks, tips and strategies with our fellow moms, so send us your mommy questions you would like to see as the subject of a blog. We would love to hear from you! Subscribe here to receive posts straight to your inbox!
Images used under creative commons license – commercial use (9/5/2018) J. P. Kang (Flickr)