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Are You Ready For Your Kid's First Day?

Advice From Preschool Teachers of the Year

Each year at this time the media are full of authors, experts, doctors and clinicians doing what they do best: scaring the pants off a new crop of parents whose 5-year-olds are entering academia.

Listening to yet another psychologist expound on the tensions, stresses and strains to be confronted, I pondered how they make it sound like they are discussing deployment to Iraq, not enlistment in kindergarten. Taking every shred of what should be excitement and joy and leaving behind uncertainty and fear, they produce a new batch of anal, compulsive, questioning, frightened moms and dads who in turn telegraph all that fright and dread to their children.

I have two words for the experts, and for all the frightened, stressed-out, tearful parents who will soon be dropping their child off and leaving them in school: LIGHTEN UP.

Yes, that's right. Lighten up. I have three daughters of my own, which means I have lived through three separate milestones as each has greeted their new teachers and newfound independence, and none of them has spontaneously combusted under the pressure. However, all around me, each of those three years, and each subsequent year as I pass the kindergarten wing of their schools, I see drama and pathos worthy of a Greek epic, or at least a series on HBO.

Clingy children, weepy parents and frustrated teachers, most first days score a C, at best. But fear not. With a little personal homework of your own, you and your child can make the honor roll with an A+! Here are real-world, real-parent tips from my many years of application and observation.

Grow Up: Yes, You

Constantly bemoaning the fact that little Janie is becoming a big girl will not change the fact that she is. She is doing exactly what she is supposed to be doing: growing up, learning, moving forward. Let her. She cannot become a fully functioning child, adolescent, adult with a set of weepy parents agonizing over her every step. You have both worked for five years toward this milestone. Celebrate!

Talk It Out

A big mistake so many parents make is in underestimating their child's ability to comprehend and process information. Children are intuitive, thoughtful, imaginative people and questions are always more scary than the answers that follow. Take advantage of orientation days and the fact that the schools are occupied with working administrators even before the school year gets under way. Walk them through their new environment so that first day is familiar, not foreign. And answer all questions honestly; don't fudge. Kids have built-in BS detectors.

Watch Your Mouth

It is natural for you to be talking – and be honest, whining – about this upcoming benchmark to every person you know, every check-out clerk you meet. Just try not to do it in front of your child. Let them be excited. You be a walking Kleenex out of earshot.

Choices, Choices

While you may think it is easier to simply make your way through the school supply aisle as quickly as possible (OK, it is), let your new kindergartner hold his list and choose his own crayons, markers, lunchbox, etc. You will reinforce that he is ready for more grownup endeavors that require decision making. So if he agonizes for 10 minutes over what color school box to buy, let him. If he is happy with his choices, he won't be able to wait to get them to school and show them off.

Static Cling

Despite all efforts to project joy and excitement about starting school, some children are naturally more clingy than others. Talk about the first day, and while being matter-of-fact, make it very clear, in no uncertain terms, that you cannot stay. Talk about how proud you are of him. Tell her how much fun she is going to have. Talk about eating lunch and snacks at school. You will be amazed how eating away from you is a huge attraction for a child. If your child needs an extra boost, have him help prepare a special treat for the entire class that he can present to the teacher when he goes in.

No Child Left Behind

The dominant real concern your child will have is how they will get back to your loving embrace at the end of their day. To both of you, I say, don't freak out. I have yet to attend a school where there is not a rock solid program for ensuring your little one gets to the proper bus or carpool line for pick up each afternoon. Schools face this responsibility with utmost seriousness and are rigid in their rules. So explain to your child that each bus has a number and they will probably wear a card pinned to their clothes the first week or so, until they get comfortable with the routine. And if you will be picking them up in the carpool line, assure them that the teachers will stay with the children until each one is picked up.

Lights, Camera, Action

The big day is here, the camcorder is charged and your child is wearing her backpack to breakfast. Let excitement be the watchword! Children take all their cues from their parents and will walk into that school mirroring YOUR emotions. So smile for the camera, rehearse your lines ahead of time and play your part – that of adoring yet confident parent of an adorable yet confident kindergartner.

Several No-no's to Avoid

1. Under no circumstances should you go home and tearfully flip through your child's baby book or photo album. They are at school, not off backpacking through Europe for a year.

2. Do not show up to eat lunch with your child for at least the first two weeks. Let them become acclimated, make new friends and enjoy their independence.

3. Do not watch the clock, especially that first day. Make plans that have nothing to do with your child. Meet a friend at the mall, meet your hubby for lunch or if you can afford it, treat yourself to a massage at a day spa. Again, you've earned it!

4. Don't crowd the teacher; give her space. She is spending that first month getting to know your child. She does not need your coaching (unless there are medical or emotional concerns). And I promise you, the child the teacher gets to know is no one you have ever met!

Finally, and I cannot stress this enough – don't cry. Even tears of happiness can throw off your child's feelings about that first day. If you must sob, say goodbye with a smile and walk directly to the principal's office. No, you're not in trouble. They just keep an extra supply of Kleenex on hand and will be waiting for you.

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