First Day Tips From A Good Enough Mother

Even though I loved school and eventually became a teacher, I cried on my first day of school, all through elementary school and into Junior High. Now, over 30 years later and working as a School Library Media Specialist, I understand the trauma associated with that fear of the unknown. While it’s exciting to be dressed in that brand new outfit, carrying that backpack filled with new pencils, pens and post-its, it is a little scary to be meeting the class and the new teacher for the first time.

And kids aren’t the only ones who are anxious as a new school year begins. I have much compassion for the hysterically crying parents who are dropping off their kindergarteners for the first time. Having an infrastructure in place is the first step to relieving your anxiety along with your child’s.

Here are some tips for putting your child and yourself at ease:

  • If you are going to be at a new school, try to visit the playground. If the school allows, walk around the building and see if you can meet the teacher before the first day. Meet as many staff members as possible: the nurse, librarian, office staff, custodian as well as the principal. A familiar face on the first day is very reassuring. Being comfortable in this new territory is very helpful. (If your child is moving up to the Middle School or High School this is also a good idea.)

  • If you know some children in your child’s class (some schools will send you the list of students before school starts) try to arrange a play date with a future classmate so there will be a familiar face in the class.

  • If there is a supply list, no matter how long, try to get as many of the items as possible. You want your child to feel prepared and have what they need to prevent added anxiety on that first day. And do check their backpacks daily. If you keep up with what is going on in school, it sets a good example for your child.

  • Let the teacher know any allergies or special needs your child may have. Teachers don’t always read each student’s files immediately and for a good reason. Many want to form their own impression of you child. That’s a plus if your child had a bad experience with a previous teacher. So it’s important to let them know if your child can’t eat peanuts, needs to go to the bathroom frequently or needs to sit near the board because of vision.

  • Fill out forms and send them with your child on the first day. Be sure they know their address and phone number. If your child needs a physical get it done before school starts.

  • For those little ones, send them to school wearing clothes they can handle on their own. Be sure they can tie their shoe laces, button and/or zip up their pants and if they can’t buckle a belt– then no belt.  Accidents are avoided this way!

  • Tell them fun stories about things that you liked about school. My favorite thing about kindergarten was shaking that magical jar of cream to make butter. I remember that many decades later!

  • Slip a special note in their lunch box or with their snack on that first day so your child will know you are thinking of them—only if they are in elementary school. Middle and High school kids might be embarrassed, but you know your child!

  • Play a “What If?” Game—being prepared for all situations can help avoid anxiety. Talk about various scenarios so you and your child can brainstorm the possibilities of any difficulties they may encounter.

  • Have a game plan. Be sure your child knows what he does at the end of the school day: Bus number, after school program or who picks him up. It’s a good time to review your family emergency plan or create one if you don’t have one.

  • Reflect and review: be proactive. Look at the comments on their report card from the previous year. First focus on the positive and then go over areas that need improvement and plan to work on those.

  • Talk about what they did over the summer. Remember going back to school and having to write an essay called “What I did over my summer vacation”? If you took pictures over the summer or kept a journal of your travels put those memories together.

  • Create a timeline for the school year. Include state and district assessments, PSAT, SAT, ACT exams, etc.  If you get a school calendar in the mail, highlight school events—Open House, Parent Teacher conferences, etc.

  • Set goals: New school year, another opportunity for resolutions.

  • Be mentally prepared. Get out the summer homework packet and make sure it was done. If there was required reading and your child read it in the beginning of the summer, review it with them.

  • Relax and have some fun! Enjoy a special day-trip, barbecue or family activity right before school starts.

  • Try to start the school bedtime schedule well before the first day of school. It’s a good idea for the whole family!

  • Read! Read! Read!

For kids entering Kindergarten and First Grade, a brand new book by one of my favorite picture book authors, Antoinette Portis, Kindergarten Diary would be just the right book to read together with your child to ease those first day jitters.

Award winning author and illustrator Kevin Henkes offers two modern day classic stories Wemberly Worried and Owen about mice who have major anxiety about starting school.

The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn—a mother raccoon teachers her child a secret way to take her love with him when he is reluctant to go to kindergarten

The Best School Year Ever by Judy Robinson—a chapter book for middle grade students delights with the laugh-out-loud adventures of some very naughty kids.

One Smart Cookie: Bite-sized Lessons For The School Year And Beyond by Amy Krouse Rosenthal. Words of wisdom from the first day of kindergarten to the last day of high school.

A Smart Girl’s Guide To Starting Middle School by Julie Williams. A straightforward handbook about what to expect from middle school that boys could benefit from too!

There are many other books about starting school and first day jitters.  Visit your public library for more ideas.

Enjoy the last days of the summer.  Most of all accept the fact that transitions are just that- filled with mixed emotions for everyone, teachers included!

Ronni Diamondstein is a freelance writer, PR consultant, award-winning photographer and a School Library Media Specialist and teacher who has worked in the US and abroad.