Here are a few suggestions, in case you are still trying to solve the conundrum of adjustment.
Be positive and caring with your child. It is a big deal for a child to go to a new classroom, have a new teacher, new school, new expectations, new routines, and new students around. Some children need extra time to adjust. Shy children, sensitive children, or children who have complicated things going on in their lives (family problems, marital struggles, recent move, etc.) are especially apt to need extra time to adjust smoothly.
· Acknowledge the negative emotions.
· Normalize the struggle.
· Talk positively with your child overall.
Say something like, “I know you feel sad and a little scared sometimes at school. Sometimes it takes a while to get used to new things and have those sad and scared feelings go away. That’s ok. Let’s also remember that you have a great school and one of the best teachers around. And, you’ve already made a new friend.”
Being positive with your child includes monitoring what they might overhear you saying to someone else. A child has fine-tuned antennae that immediately pick up the smallest of parental signals. I call them “Mickey Mouse Ears. It won’t match if they hear you being positive with them and then telling your friends negative things about school.
Stay calm yourself. Your stress and anxiety will be noticed by your child. Sometimes children reflect the struggle of a parent who is ambivalent about letting the child go to school. It can be a big deal for parents too. Take care of yourself and do what you need to stay in a positive and calm place emotionally. Drop off and pick up are the most critical times. If you can’t manage to do either or both in a calm positive manner, enlist help from your spouse, friend or relative. Often children will behave quite differently with the other parent or a close friend.
Remind your child how he/she adjusted positively in the past. Think of something, large or small, that was hard for your child and how he/she overcame it. Talk about it together and help reinforce the idea that your child has resources inside to use to help get through the adjustment difficulties. Ask your child what would help (other than not going to school!). Often a certain part of the day is hardest for a child; for example, drop off, lunch, or recess. It may be a big thing that bothers him/her, or it may be a smaller thing. From a child’s perspective, it all matters. Brainstorm together about how to solve the most worrisome part. Ask, “What would make (fill in the blank) time easier for you?” Try to help your child be as specific as possible in being part of formulating a positive plan of action. Saying simply, “Tomorrow will be better” is not as effective as “Tomorrow I’ll look for my new friend and go over and show him my new lunchbox after you drop me off.”
Get your child up 20 minutes earlier. School mornings can be full of rushing, pushing and parental commands. “Do this, remember that, finish now, etc.” A frantic start leads to high stress. High stress increases the likelihood of problems throughout the day. Prepare things the night before, get everyone to bed on time, and get your child up 20 minutes earlier in the morning. A calm more relaxed start will positively influence the whole day.
Work with the school. Struggles the first week back to school are fairly common, especially for smaller children. If the struggles go into the second week and beyond, ask to meet with your child’s teacher, without the child present. Try to find out more specifics about the school side of the struggle, and share more specifics with the school from the home side. Your child is likely new to the teacher, so help the teacher know more about him/her. Let the teacher know about any unique situations or special needs. It will make the picture clearer for both of you. Remember, most teachers have dealt with this issue repeatedly and will have valuable wisdom to share. Consult a professional if problems are severe or simply do not abate.
Come up with a good plan and see it through. School adjustment tantrums are so public, sometimes embarrassingly big, and the child’s distress so acute that a parent can feel desperate to eliminate the problem. Sometimes parents grab at straws trying one fix and then another, rapidly in succession, including pulling a child out of school or changing schools within the first few weeks. Remember, solutions can take time. Try not to get overwhelmed. Stay hopeful, calm, and as clear headed as you can. Although you are the expert on your child, working together with experienced school staff will help you develop a good plan of action. Don’t alter or give up on the plan too quickly. It might not work the first day you try it, or the second. That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to work.