Dear Mr. Dad: My daughter is starting kindergarten next month. We've been talking about how much fun she's going to have and she seems really excited about the whole thing. But here's where it gets strange: I'm pretty nervous. What can we (the adults) do to get over our nervousness? And is there anything else we can do to get our daughter ready?
A: We all know what a big deal the first day of school (whether it's preschool, kindergarten, or college) is for kids. But we rarely hear about what a big, nail-biting deal it is for parents. So thanks for bringing it up!
Your excited daughter is in the minority. Kids have been hearing about this mysterious place called "school" since before they could walk. And even though they're young, they've learned from experience to be suspicious of anything that people tell them over and over they're going to love. As a result, most kids – even though they've spent time away from mom and dad in day care or preschool – are plenty nervous.
For adults, the closest equivalent to the first day of kindergarten might be starting a new job in South Africa, a job that you never applied or interviewed for. The language is the same, but the rules and customs are going to be different – and you have no idea what anyone wants you to do.
Fortunately, there are a few things you and your daughter can do before the big day that should make this major transition a little easier for all of you:
Go shopping. Ask the school for a list of supplies your daughter will need to bring. Then, take a family trip to the store and let her pick out her own backpack, crayons, pencil box, and whatever else she'll need.
Meet the teacher. Most schools are pretty open to this, so it shouldn't be too hard to schedule a time when you, your spouse, and your daughter can see the classroom and meet the teacher. This will give everyone a chance to connect and will give your daughter a relatively low-stress way to check out the classroom without being distracted by 24 other kids, many of whom may be crying. At some schools, kindergarten teachers make home visits. That's nice, but there's no substitute for seeing the actual classroom.
Time for bed. Your daughter has probably been sleeping in for most of the summer and she needs some time to adjust to new sleep and wake-up times. So start as far in advance as you can. Trying to institute a major change the night before is a sure-fire way to ensure a very stressful day for everyone.
Take a ride. Will your daughter be riding the bus to school? If so, it'll be easier on her (and less nerve-wracking for you) if one or both of her parents can ride with her on the first day (or several days). Besides introducing her to the bus driver, this will give her a chance to learn where to get off the bus, where you'll pick her up, and what to do if, for some reason, you're not able to meet her at the bus stop. Make arrangements with a nearby friend or neighbor to be on standby.
Share the experience. Finally, encourage your child to talk about her day when she comes home. (And try something other than "how was school?" Kids learn very young that the best response to that question is, "fine." This is your chance to nip that in the bud). If you show her that you think school is interesting and important, she'll think it is too.
(Read Armin Brott's blog at www.DadSoup.com, follow him on Twitter, @mrdad, or send email to email@example.com.)