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Beginning Kindergarten: A Bittersweet Milestone

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I enthusiastically prepared my children for kindergarten with assurances of how they were "going to love it!" Then, when my oldest child bounded out of the car and up the schoolhouse steps with barely a backward glance that first day, I just sat there and bawled. I would have been terribly embarrassed to be caught bawling like a baby in public if I had been anywhere else, but looking around I saw only sympathetic smiles and teary-eyes among the other parents dropping off their children for the first day of kindergarten.

The beginning of school is also the ending of babyhood and transitions such as this must be grieved as well as rejoiced. When my second child started kindergarten, I went straight home and called some friends to go to lunch with me. I only had to say, "Bonnie started Kindergarten today". They knew immediately that I needed the comfort of good friends. If you are facing this transition in the life of your family this month, don't do it alone. Enlist the support, advice, and listening ears of your family and friends. Relish the joy of your child's accomplishment of the transition to school, but don't cut yourself off from the feeling of loss. Life's experiences are so much richer when we embrace all our emotions.

This transition for the child begins with the first visit for kindergarten registration in the Spring. Another visit to the school will usually be held prior to the first day to "meet the teacher." It's nice if both parents can go to these orientation visits. Walk around the school together. Peek in the rooms, speak to the secretary, the custodian, the principal and teachers. Visit the playground, the lunchroom, the office, the bathroom, and of course, the classroom so that your child will begin to feel comfortable with her surroundings. Then, it will all seem familiar to her on that whirlwind first day.

A fun ritual at our house is the buying of school supplies each August. Though your kindergarten child will not likely need many school supplies, he will surely enjoy buying a new backpack, colors, scissors, and glue. Make school shopping a special outing just for him. In addition to the school-recommended supplies let him pick out a colorful folder to keep at home for his special papers.

Your young child will probably be very tired when he comes home from kindergarten for at least the first month. If he goes to daycare after school, make sure that they are sensitive to this. If he comes home after kindergarten each day don't be surprised to find him asleep within minutes. Let him get plenty of rest during this time. You will also want to reduce any potential stressors for him during these early stages of the transition to daily school. You may notice that he is extra-irritable with younger siblings or that he cries easily over minor things. Chalk this up to stress but keep an eye on him for signs of overstress.

If There Is a Problem. . .

Address it immediately. If your child is crying because she doesn't want to go to school, you need to deal with it quickly. Is it separation anxiety? Perhaps she feels lost or unsure about something at school and is afraid to ask the teacher. If your child is very sensitive she will absolutely need a compassionate teacher and small class size. Schedule an appointment with the teacher first. Working together, you and your child's teacher can probably work it out. If the problem continues, ask to meet with the school counselor.

Is she also struggling with the tasks she is expected to complete in school? You will want to consider getting a complete evaluation from a Child Study Center, local Mental Health Center, or the school. Don't panic. Children have different temperaments and the range of normal development is very wide at this age.

If your child is having the opposite problem with school adjustment -fighting, overactivity, difficulty following rules or paying attention -you will probably hear from the teacher a lot sooner. If you get a note from the teacher, follow-up immediately. Call her that very day or the next. She will be a lot more willing to work with you if she sees that you are responsive and concerned. Consider if your child has exhibited this same type of behavior in preschool or daycare. It doesn't necessarily mean ADD but you would be wise to have your child evaluated sooner rather than later.

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