Getting our children emotionally ready for school entails getting our children to a place where they are open, willing, and able to try. They have a general feeling that “I can handle this.” Because children grow through relationships, these tips all filling up your child’s “connection cup,” helping them feel emotionally ready for school:
- Be Mindful
Mindfulness is fully living in the present moment or paying attention. Being a mindful parent means purposefully choosing your behavior with your child’s emotional well-being in mind. A few ideas for using mindfulness are:
- Putting aside 10-15 minutes of 1:1 time to be fully present with each child (if
you have multiple) and join them in an activity of their choosing.
- Notice things about each child in a descriptive, nonjudgmental way. I notice
how you like …., I notice how you stuck with that …., etc.
- Practice gratitude each day. Name one thing for which you are thankful and have your child do the same.
2. Talk It Out
This month begin having regular conversations about the next grade or beginning of school. Model optimism and confidence, but allow for an outpouring of feelings because it is essential to name our emotions to tame them. Tell real stories about your memories of starting school, including your emotions as well as a struggle and how you overcame it to help your child feel empowered.
- Laugh as a Family
Get silly, active, and giggly together. Due to the hierarchical nature of school and that our children are continually learning new things, they can often feel small and powerless. Playing and being silly with you allows your children to feel big and powerful. Some ideas include: having a water balloon fight, going in the sprinkler together, or even something simple like trying to lick your elbows together.
- Sleep More
Sleep is vital for emotional health. You can feel so scattered or cranky or overwhelmed by the simplest tasks when you haven’t gotten enough sleep. For our children, they have the added stress of the amount of energy they need for physical and mental growth. Children need 9.5-11 hours of sleep per night; if you have to wake them up in the morning, their bedtime is probably too late. Before school, begin to move their bedtime up by 15-30 minutes each night until you get to the time where you do not have to wake them up in the morning. Keep wake up routines cheerful and positive. This time can set the emotional tone for their entire day.
- Encourage Bonding with Teacher and Friends
To help encourage a positive bond with their teacher speak positively about their teacher, “I heard Ms. Jones loves reading to her class,” or find out other positive characteristics about the teacher and emphasize those. Learning is social, so once you get the class list, invite friends over for playdates or meet at the playground before school starts. Having a friend in their classroom will help your child feel more comfortable and confident on the first day of school.
- Use Visualization
Give your child a comfortable mental picture or “movie” about beginning school. Tell a story about what your child’s first day of school will look like, what will happen in the morning- is there a particular breakfast, will they take a bus, walk or be driven, once at school what will happen -hanging up their backup, etc usually the first day of school there are getting to know you activities, etc. Try encouraging your child to play “school.” Play allows children to gain mastery over a difficult task as well as gain confidence.
Parents need support too…
Being emotionally nourished ourselves allows us to be fully present and effectively listen while our children work through their feelings. If your child has uncharacteristic meltdowns the first week of school, stay calm and be patient. Even if we know it is stress-related, it can be hard to take, so take care of yourself whatever that looks like for you—meeting for coffee with a friend, taking a bath, exercise or meditation.
Now that you know how to emotionally prepare your children for the school year, get out there and fill up their connection cups!
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”–Jon Kabat-Zinn
Caitlyn D. Dunn, LCSWis a Cos Cob, CT-based therapist that works with children, families and women. Her specialties include anxiety and depression and adjusting to motherhood.