Today is the day. A big day. And as has always been the case for me, on big days my body has woken early, my mind instantly alert to the fact that something momentous is happening today. My family chuckle every year when I tell them that, yes, once again, despite being 36 years old, I woke early on Christmas Day. It’s 5.15am but today is not Christmas. Today is my first-born daughter’s last day of kindy.
It’s funny, I always thought the big deal was a child’s first day of school. Indeed that is a big deal, but I underestimated the feelings that would come with leaving kindy. And, I’ll be honest (sorry mums who have gone before me), I silently scoffed at the notion of a mother crying on her child’s first day of school. Until now. Now, I get it. Though it has surprised me as to why I’m tearful.
It’s not that she’s “a big girl now”.
It’s not that she’s “all grown up”.
It’s not her bravery that’s got me all choked up.
They’re not tears of pride (although proud of her, I am).
It’s that she’s not a big girl. She’s only 5.
It’s that she’s not all grown up. She’s still a child.
It’s that she may be brave on the outside, but actually she’s nervous.
They’re not tears of pride, they’re tears of fear.
Will she make friends? Will the other kids be kind to her? If she cries, will her teacher cuddle her like her kindy teachers always have?
She’s going from being a big fish in a small pond, to being a small fish in a very big pond. She’s going outside her comfort zone and I can’t protect her. Oh my gosh, my stomach just did a little flip as I wrote that. My eyes are welling up. (Again). That’s the real crux of it for me: I can’t protect her. Is that why all you mums before me cried on your child’s first day of school?
And my daughter, she’s tearful too. Has been for the last few months. In fact her whole demeanour has changed: she’s staying closer, being more physical with her love, wanting more cuddles, needing more time with me. I guess that’s her way of seeking reassurance that although she’s moving on, I’m not. Oh no darling, I’ll always be your safe haven. She’s having nightmares, and singing more than usual. I think that’s her little brain working overtime and her way of processing her emotions about this change. Darling, I understand; I’m processing my emotions too.
I can’t stop this change. I can’t protect her. What I can do though is prepare her for the transition and give her tools so that she can protect herself. That’s our job as mums really, isn’t it: to be a guide and witness to our children’s lives.
Here are the things I’ve done and my
Do’s and Don’ts for preparing your child for starting school
(Some of these courtesy of my own mum who is a new entrant school teacher)
- DO let them familiarise in their own time – take them to play on the playground, explore the grounds. Do this on weekends leading up to their first day so that they have the time and space to process the newness.
- DO approach it with curiosity and wonder – use language like “I wonder what you’ll do in the library… let’s imagine what you might do on your first day”. This helps make the ‘big concept’ of school real and gives meaning to it.
- DO take their lead – let them lead the exploring, let them create meaning; one of our fundamental human needs is to belong. Children are looking for context, for their place, for where they fit. Let them find it and take ownership and build confidence around it.
- DON’T build it up – yes, it’s a big deal but the more we talk about it – “who’s turning 5 soon, who’s starting school soon?”, the more we build it up, the more we might fuel a child’s anxiety about it.
- DON’T overwhelm with more of the new – school bag, lunchbox, drink bottle, perhaps uniform… if you can give these to them progressively before the big day it will limit the overwhelm.
- DON’T ignore the non-verbal cues – pay attention to changes in behaviour as these are your cues to what might be going on under the surface for your little one.
These tips are discussed further by me and The Parenting Place expert on TV3’s The Cafe. Watch the video here:
And one final thing that I highly recommend, which has worked so well for us, is to teach your child to breathe mindfully. Bless my darling daughter, just yesterday she made up a song about being nervous with lyrics “When you’re nervous, just take a breath…” (you can watch her singing it on Instagram @dearmummynz)
And now it’s time for me to breathe. To pause. Be present. Get perspective. I’m alive and it’s my privilege to be Mummy and Guide to two beautiful little Beings. It’s 6.50am and the sun is up, the birds are chirping. My darling Olive has just come in. Her first words this morning: “I’m sad about my last day of kindy.” And I am glad. I’m glad her the focus is still on kindy and we’re keeping her nervousness about school at bay.
I know darling, I’m sad too. But I’ll be there with you, all day long if you want me to be. You can show me everything you’ve learned at kindy. And when you stand up the front and all the teachers and kids sing you the goodbye song, I’ll try not to cry.