How to Help Your Sensitive Child Transition to Kindergarten

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Back to school time is once again upon us.  Weather you’re excited or bummed about that, it’s coming.  Kids of all ages will be boarding buses, filling up their backpacks, and taking those obligatory 1st day of school pictures.  But for parents of 4- and 5-year-olds this can be time of mixed emotions.  We’re sending our babies out into the world, some of them for the first time, and it’s hard fathom how they got so big.  Weren’t they just teeny-tiny infants yesterday?

Whether your child went to preschool, was homeschooled, or hasn't had any formal learning, transitioning to kindergarten can be tough... for parents and kids. And if you're raising a sensitive child, those feelings can be multiplied by, well, a lot.

Of course, for some parents this transition can be a difficult time.  For children with unique needs any change is challenging, but one of this magnitude can be downright scary, confusing, and frankly, sounded better when it was just an idea.

I’ll give you an example.  When Miss O first heard about kindergarten she was in pre-school.  It sounded so exciting!  She came home jumping and yelling that she was going to be a real kindergartener soon.  It was adorable.  Then we had to go in for her kindergarten pre-screening.  It’s basically just a chance for the teachers to see what, if any, special needs a child may have and where her skills are at, and it gives time for parents to meet with some of the school staff (nurse, counselor, etc.)

Miss O was excited for a week before we went.  She was excited the morning of and barely slept the night before.  She was excited on the car ride to the school.  And when we got to the school… she completely clammed up, grabbed on to my leg, and became terrified.

That, in a nutshell, is life with a sensitive child.

By this point in Miss O’s life, we are pretty good at predicting what situations are going to trigger a response like that, so we’ve figured out a couple of ways to help ease into them.

Talk about it.  A lot.  If your sensitive kid is excited to start school, let them talk about it as much as they want.  Add in your own fun stories from school, talk about some of the cool things she’ll be doing, and listen as much as you can.  In the midst of all this talk, toss in a comment or 2 about how being nervous is okay, too.  Normal, even.  Then go back to the positive talk.  In the adult world we often call this a shit sandwich; Give 1 positive note, a negative one (or maybe just not so pie-in-the-sky), and then finish it off with more positive.  It’s a good way to keep the excitement and also let your kid know that it’s not all sunshine and roses, and that he might get scared, but that you’re there for him no matter what.

Make a site visit.  Our school had a built-in site visit with the pre-screening meeting, but not every school does that.  If possible, make arrangements with your child’s future school to take a walk around (after school when it’s not so noisy and active).  Ask the administration if you could let your kid play on the playground for a bit to get them excited about the idea of getting to play there every day.  And if you’re local and happen to know a staff member, ask if it’s okay to stop in while you’re there.  Even if she’s not your child’s teacher, it comforts them to know that there’s at least 1 familiar grown up there.

Practice.  What does the first day of school look like at your school?  For Miss O it was going to the school, meeting her teacher and classmates, finding her cubby, a quick bus ride (for practice), and then she was sent home.  Even that can be intimidating to a sensitive child.  If you practice it ahead of time – as much as you can – and talk her through what’s going to happen, it becomes less scary.  Do this as many times as you need to (or you have time for).

Start your morning routine early.  No, not early in the morning, though you have to do that, too; I mean a week or 2 before school starts.  Shake off the laziness of summer, have him up and out of bed early, whatever that means to you, get dressed, have breakfast, and be on your way.  If you have errands to run, do them.  If your kid is taking the bus, take a walk to the stop and talk about when the bus comes, how to say goodbye to Mommy or Daddy, etc. Then you can get on with the rest of your day as usual.

Read.  There are lots of books on the topic of going to kindergarten.  Borrow a few from your library or pick up a few to keep at home, and make those part of your nightly story.  Kindergarten, Here I Come, The Night Before Kindergarten, Kindergarten Rocks!, Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten, and Clifford Goes to Kindergarten are a few of my favorites.

Change is scary for anyone.  For a sensitive child it can be paralyzing. By understanding your child’s unique needs and preparing for them you can make the transition to kindergarten as smooth as possible.

Whether your child went to preschool, was homeschooled, or hasn't had any formal learning, transitioning to kindergarten can be tough... for parents and kids. And if you're raising a sensitive child, those feelings can be multiplied by, well, a lot.

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