QUESTION: My little boy is going to be starting first grade this fall. What can I do to make the day fun for him and to avoid tears or tantrums?
BBB: How amazing it would be if parents could somehow ensure that their children’s transitions to any new experience would be smooth, easy, tear and tantrum-free. Those guarantees aren’t for sale. Planning ahead to put your son in the best place to have a successful start is a great idea.
You referred to your boy as “little.” I consider first graders to be “big guys.” Make sure you have your own feelings in check about your growing boy and his ability to be independent. No leakage, please. Communicate an attitude of confidence in your big first-grade boy.
Only you know your child. You know how he transitions to new experiences, how much lead time he may need and the kinds of things that he worries about. Here are a few tips to smooth the start of school. Each should be adapted to your own child.
1. Don’t talk about the new class, new teacher, new room, new school year too soon or too much. A week before is plenty of time if your child hasn’t brought it up already.
2. Talk with your child about all the different feelings you can have at the very same time when you’re starting something new: excited and nervous, happy and sad, comfortable and uncomfortable. Use examples from your own life.
3. Make a list of all the things he already knows about his school.
4. Talk about how first grade might be different from kindergarten. What do first graders do that the kindergarteners don’t get to do? Ask him to remember to tell you when he finds out.
5. Make a list of all the things about first grade to which he is looking forward. Ask him which friends he is hoping to see, what activities he gets to do in the big play yard and more.
6. Make another list or videotape your son talking about the things about which he is wondering, even feeling nervous.
7. Do not belittle his feelings, saying things like, “Oh, you’re not worried about that.”
After the first few days of school, play back the video to see where he stands on those things now.
8. Remind him of how he felt when he started preschool then kindergarten. Look at photos from all those first days, pointing out how he got comfortable and had a great time.
9. Let him take a “throw-away” camera to school to take pictures of all the things he wants to tell you about when he gets home.
10. Celebrate how grown-up your guy is, letting him know he will always be your baby!
Betsy Brown Braun, M.A. is a Child Development and Behavior Specialist (infants to teens), a Parent Educator, and Multiple Birth Parenting Specialist. She has taught in both public and private schools, has been a school director, and was the founding director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Early Childhood Center in Los Angeles. Betsy consults with parents privately, runs parenting groups, seminars and workshops for parents, teachers, and other professionals. She is the award winning author of the best selling, “Just Tell Me What to Say” and “You’re Not the Boss of Me.” Betsy has been featured on the Today Show, The Early Show, Good Morning, America, America Now, Dr. Phil, The Rachael Ray Show, Fox and Friends. She has been a guest on NPR and regularly contributes to KNX News Radio, and radio stations nationwide. Betsy’s expertise has been cited in Parents Magazine, Twins Magazine, Family Circle, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, and in numerous city specific newspapers and family magazines. Betsy and Ray Braun, Palisades residents for 38 years, are the parents of adult triplets and have three grandchildren, so far.