The first day of school is just around the corner and for many parents of young children or new students, this brings one of the hardest transitions they will ever face: the school drop-off.
The drop-off is a rite of passage that all parents have to go through. Sending your child into any new environment can bring up fear, sadness, and stress not just for kids, but certainly for parents too!
Whether you’re taking your child to school for the very first time, taking them to a new school, or a new classroom with a new teacher, things that are new can be scary, and that’s totally OK.
This is a difficult experience for all families. You are not alone.
Now some children might breeze right past you without issue, but for many young children the first few days of school drop-off is a struggle. It’s completely normal for children to have intense emotional reactions to change and new environments, particularly when they are young or it’s their first time. It’s entirely natural for them to feel nervous, scared, or sad.
While it can be difficult for parents to see their kids going through this, you need to know that experiencing these feelings is an important part of a child’s emotional development and they will come out the other side healthy, whole, and stronger for it.
Years ago when it was us, dropping our own daughters off at school for the very first time, our mantra was: Change is hard, but we can do hard things.
So without further adieu, here are a few things to keep in mind that may help you rock the drop-off this September.
Fake It Til You Make It
As parents, we need to be mindful of the behavior we are modeling for our children, and school drop-offs are no exception.
How your child reacts to certain situations depends, to some extent, on you. Children place ultimate trust in us as parents to keep them safe, teach them about the world, and make good decisions on their behalf. If we are feeling nervous, anxious, or unsure about their first days at school, they will too. But if we’re feeling excited and enthusiastic, they will see that and feel assured about what’s to come.
Remember: confidence is contagious. If you communicate to your child that you’re confident about your decision to send them into this new environment it will put them at ease because they trust you more than anyone else in this world. Even if you’re putting on a brave face for your child, they need to feel like you have made the best decision ever in choosing this particular school, this classroom, and this teacher.
On the first day of school, it’s your job to stay strong, confident, and calm even if you’re crumbling on the inside. If strong feelings come up for either of you, try to be the epitome of grace under fire… and give yourself an extra ten minutes in the car afterward to cry it out.
We all do it.
Watch What You Say
When it comes to high-stress situations like school drop-offs our kids look to us for social and emotional cues about how to conduct themselves. If you are calm, they will try to be calm, but if you are nervous or upset that will signal to them that they should be too. Children are smart and they can sense how adults are feeling because we communicate not only with our words but with body language, gestures, and intonation.
As parents and educators who have helped thousands of families through this milestone, we have got to say that how you manage yourself in front of your child is crucial. Working on your own calm confidence will have the greatest impact on how the first few days of school drop-offs go.
Your child is looking to you to see what you’re communicating verbally and in your body. So remember that you have the power to set the tone. Use it by communicating calmness and strength in what you say and what you do.
Honor Your Child’s Feelings
While it’s important for parents to project a sense of confidence and be mindful of what our words and body language might be communicating to kids during drop-off, it’s also key to honor and acknowledge how they are feeling.
Again, this is a big step for you and your child, and life changes like this are inherently emotional. These feelings are completely normal. Your job is to find a way to acknowledge, honor, and validate these feelings without undermining the amazing choice you’ve made to send your child to this particular school. You have put a lot of thought and consideration into your child’s education and you have made the right choice. So, while honoring your child’s difficult feelings is a delicate balance, you do not want to undermine the fact that this is a positive new step in their lives.
Let them know that whatever they’re feeling is ok. If they feel sad when you leave or miss you throughout the day, be honest and say that you will too. Communicate to them that you understand how they feel and that everyone feels that way for a little while, but eventually they’ll start to feel sad less and less. But keep in mind that while it’s good to acknowledge your child’s feelings you still need to make it clear that it doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to school.
Practice Makes Perfect
If this is going to be the first time that you’re dropping your child off at school or the first time at a new school, we would encourage you to take advantage of any orientations or teacher meet and greets scheduled prior to the first day.
Make a point of spending as much one on one time with your child’s new teacher as you can, and attend any and all school events leading up to the first day so that they can familiarize themselves with their new environment. It will make the first few days of drop-off easier because they have spent some time there already and had the chance to get to know their teacher.
And on the first day of school, follow the teacher’s lead. You may notice your child’s teacher is focused on making good-byes short and sweet. The longer you drag out the drop-off process, the longer it may take children to adjust because it gives them space to dwell on the fact that you are leaving. As hard as it is, try to keep drop off brief and follow the teacher’s lead. They are there to support you and your child, and they are well equipped to help both of you as you navigate this monumental right of passage.
Trust the Process
One of the most common questions we get is, “How long does this process take? When will my child adjust?” And unfortunately, there is no answer to that question. It could take two days or it could take two weeks. Every child is different and there is really no way to say how long it will take for them.
But what we can tell you with total certainty is that someday you will drop your child off and there will be no tears. They will give you a hug, say their goodbyes, and run off without skipping a beat.
Trust that you are leaving your child in the hands of experienced, expert, loving teachers and staff who want the best for your child and have spent years supporting children through these challenges. Trust that they have supported hundreds of children through this transition and they are well equipped to comfort your child when they are sad and help them focus on other things.
And repeat after us… Change is hard, but we can do hard things ♥️️
Additional Reading: For children who are going through separation anxiety during the early days of school drop-off we recommend the book The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn.