The first day your child goes to school — whether daycare, preschool or kindergarten — can be fraught with emotions: excitement, nervousness, anticipation and even some sadness (for both of you). Whether this is your first child or your fifth, it's easy to overlook something important when emotions are high.
I made every mistake in the book with my kids. But you don't have to make the same mistakes I did. Follow these seven tips, and you'll be the rockstar parent instead of the cautionary tale that all the other parents look on with pity at drop off (not that I'd know anything about that).
1. Review the paperwork, many times
If this is your first child entering school, you'll probably be shocked by the sheer volume of paperwork sent your way. Somewhere in the middle of that stack of flyers about peanut allergies and health forms, however, will be a schedule of your child’s first day. Possibly they have divided the class for orientation sessions. Make sure you find the correct date for this and don’t show up on the wrong day.
And if your child is anything like mine, you’ll still be hearing about it eight years later.
Also review any additional expectations for that first day. My child was supposed to bring a snack to school. I was so proud of myself. It was nut-free, just as instructed. I missed the part, however, where it was meant to be a snack to share with her friends, so my baby girl was the only child with a single-sized serving of her snack.
2. Set several alarms
Smartphones allow you to set multiple alarms: take advantage of this feature! You’ll want to set one for the day before, an hour before, and fifteen minutes before you are supposed to leave for drop-off. It’s not that you’ll mean to be late, but you’re not used to this yet and it takes practice.
Plus, if you have a smaller child, this will inevitably be the time they need a diaper change or potty break, so take this into account when you plot out your drive.
3. Complete a practice run
To calm your jitters, consider practicing a school day by driving to the school — even walking around both inside and outside the building if possible — so your child can feel more comfortable about what the day will bring. The more familiar both of you are with the school and the routine, the easier it will be to avoid tears and panic on the real day.
If your child is worried about leaving you, prepare them for the big day with a timely read. These 4 books tackle separation anxiety in simple, age-appropriate ways.
4. Try on the first day outfit
You’ve bought the perfect first day outfit: maybe it’s a sweet, brightly-colored dress, or a darling tee shirt and shorts combo. You’ve put it on the highest shelf so the cat doesn’t make it into a nest or your partner doesn’t just grab it in a rushed morning and put on your child because this is THE OUTFIT. It will be in all the photos, and it is perfection. But in your zeal to keep it safe, you’ve neglected to consider whether your little darling will feel as lovingly towards it as you do.
Avoid this potential disaster by having your child try on the outfit ahead of time. If they don’t love it, you’ve got time to come up with a plan B. Or you just let them go with their favorite and know that while it isn’t picture perfect, you’ll have a fun story to tell their college love interest one day.
5. Keep your feels in check
Children are emotional barometers — they sense when we feel uneasy, and this can lead to unnecessary panic. And that can lead to crying, which can then lead to an entire class sensing that the one kid crying knows more than the rest of them which creates a class-wide panic crying fest situation. This is NOT how you want to make your first impressions!
It isn’t easy, but keep your own emotions under control so that instead of sensing your sadness, your child is sensing that you as a parent know school is safe and good. This will help you both so much in this new adventure.
6. Plan an activity for yourself
While you might be a part of the first official school day, the subsequent days will mean leaving your child behind for a few hours. Appreciating the break doesn’t make you a monster any more than being sad about it makes you a better mother. Whichever way you may roll — whether relieved or sad or a combination of the two — use the time to do something for yourself.
Make a coffee date with one of the other moms. Schedule a well-deserved nap. Read a book.
Not only will this help pass the time more quickly, it will recharge you for the moment when you retrieve your child and the day continues along.
7. Don’t forget pick-up
This may seem obvious, but with all the build-up in making sure you get your child there happily, well-presented, well-prepared, and on time, you might just sigh in relief and completely forget what time you need to return. I may have fallen asleep on the couch once and done this, although I will deny it to my grave. But in order to avoid the feeling of panic every 15 minutes and the obsessive watching of the clock, set yourself another alarm and allow yourself to enjoy the time you have.
Like each milestone before and after it, school is complicated. No one is perfect, and you will make mistakes. But take heart — you will most likely never make as many mistakes as I did, and even if you do, your children will still love and trust you. Promise.