Helping Kids to Subdue Uncertainties About Starting School

For many kids, the idea of starting kindergarten is a stressful idea. Starting kindergarten with all the changes and uncertainty these days may make the transition to school even more worrisome and confusing. Here are some tips that may help kiddos who are starting, or returning, to in-person school.

  • Morning routine – Schedules and routines are helpful for children usually, and even more so when things are uncertain or stressful. Start practicing your morning routine with your child, the sooner the better, so they get used to the schedule before school starts. Creating a visual schedule with images or pictures of the major pieces can be a helpful way to build your child’s success and independence.
  • Evening routine – A successful evening routine is the secret to a successful morning routine. Once you know what needs to happen in the morning to be ready for school, you can work backward to figure out when kiddos need to be in bed to get their best rest. Sleep is so important for children’s development and ability to be successful and learn, and school-age children need 9 to 11 hours of sleep! Don’t forget that the process of getting ready for tomorrow and then getting to sleep can take anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on what needs to get done. So, getting started on the bedtime routine may need to begin as early as 6 or 7.
  • Familiarize your child with the school environment – When kids know what to expect, it helps to reduce anxiety. (But you know your child, so if talking too much about school seems to increase their nervousness, this may be a sign to back off a bit.) Although going into the school building before school starts is likely not possible at this time due to COVID-19 restrictions, some other ideas to help your child know more of what to expect could be:
    • Walking up to the school doors to look inside, driving through your school’s parking lot, or playing on the playground if it is open to the public
    • Looking up pictures of the school or school/kinder staff on the internet
    • Talking about the activities your child is likely to do when at school (recess, eating with classmates, reading books, sitting at a table or desk, lining up to walk down the halls)
    • Reading picture books about starting school
    • Talk about wearing a mask and keeping space between yourself and other kids unless teachers say it’s ok to be closer
  • Talk with your child about school – this is probably something you are already doing, and sometimes we as adults want to tell kids, “don’t worry” if they are nervous about something. But that’s a really hard thing to do, to just not worry when you’re worried. If your child is nervous, you can let them know it’s ok to feel that way; that everyone gets nervous about new things. Then reassure them that their teacher will be there to look out for them and tell them how to get along in the classroom, and teach them how they could raise their hand and ask for help if they need something. Here are some other potentially helpful suggestions:
    • Remind your child of another time they may have tried something new and it turned out ok. Maybe that was their first time going somewhere new, or trying something they’ve never done before or their first time riding a bike, starting swim lessons, going to daycare, or staying the night at a relative’s or friend’s house. You can also share a story of something you were nervous about as a kid, and how you made it through or what you did that helped you.
    • Help your child focus on what they may be excited or looking forward to about school. Or what they can do or have control over even though some things about school may still be uncertain. Can they wave and say “hi” to make a new friend? Can they put on their own coat/shoes? How about holding a pencil and writing their name, or recognizing letters in the alphabet? Do they know how to wait their turn, or how to be flexible when they don’t get their way? These are all big kid skills that their teachers will be so proud of when they meet them!

Although there have been so many changes going on in the world, and likely still a lot of uncertainties about what going back to school may look like, you can help your child manage these difficulties. Consistency, routines, and predictability are key, as well as validating feelings and helping children to focus on their strengths and what they have to look forward to in school.

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Text: © Kids In Transition to School 2021

Image: © Mira Agron |


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