Many parents will search for something along the lines of “ways to prepare my kid for kindergarten” before their child starts school. They’ll find lots of articles telling them how to physically prepare their kid for Kindergarten, informing them about what they should be able to do before they start school. But as you prepare your child for one of the biggest days of their young lives, have you stopped to think about the ways in which to mentally prepare them for Kindergarten? If not, you should hear me out.
I have two kids under ten. Both have now moved on from Pre-K and Kindergarten. In fact, my youngest is moving on to 1st grade this year. Thinking back to last year, I realize that more than anything my child needed to be mentally prepared for Kindergarten. And with last year still fresh in my mind and the new school year right around the corner, I thought I’d share some nuggets of my own wisdom about the ways in which you can prepare your kid mentally for Kindergarten.
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#1- Let Them Know That It’s Okay to Have More Than One Emotion or Feeling
When your child is entering school for the first time, and especially Kindergarten, they are going to feel so many emotions at the same. As parents we expect them to be excited, scared or both. But there are so many other feelings that can work their way into your child’s little body and mind. When my youngest started Kindergarten last year she was definitely scared. Not only was she going into a new classroom, but she was also going into a new school in a new state. We had just moved and everything was so different. But she wasn’t just scared; she was feeling other emotions, too.
The circumstances probably amplified her feelings, but we let her know that it was okay to feel more than one feeling about entering Kindergarten. Was she scared? Absolutely! Was she excited? Not much, but definitely a little once she saw her classroom and her teachers. But the feelings didn’t stop there. She was feeling anxious, a feeling that is usually pretty strong in her little body. She was angry that we were making her go and that we were leaving her there. Obviously she didn’t feel that way forever. In fact, by the end of the school year she didn’t want to leave!
Talk to your child before school starts. Let them know that it’s okay to feel more than one way about entering Kindergarten for the first time. Also assure them that their feelings will most likely change, and that by the end of the year they may feel a totally different way about school. The more you talk to them about how they are feeling, the more likely they are to open up about it with you throughout the year.
#2- Teach Them That It’s Okay to Ask for Help
Most people probably assume that little kids are experts at asking for help. But I’m here to tell you that that is not always the case. Some kids, even ones in Kindergarten, are afraid to ask for help. They might not want to draw attention to themselves. Other kids might be afraid that they’ll get in trouble for not knowing what to do the first time. Some are just scared to talk to grown ups. No matter the reason, it is important to teach your kid that it is okay to ask for help.
Kindergarten is such a big learning and growing experience for a lot of kids. You don’t want them to be afraid to ask their teacher for assistance, especially when they are learning so many skills for the first time. My youngest daughter was, and still is, one of those kids. For whatever reason, she gets embarrassed when she has to ask an adult for help. There were days when she would come home, tell me a story, and then I would ask, “Well did you ask your teacher for help?” 99% of the time her answer was no and her reason was usually, “I was too scared to ask.”
There are many adults out there that think asking for help is a sign of weakness. Break that stigma early with your kids. As you begin to talk about Kindergarten and the many things that they will experience, remind your child that their teachers are there to help them.
#3- Let Them Know That They’re Not The Only Ones Feeling Big Things
When you are beginning to mentally prepare your kid for Kindergarten, there is one big “secret” that you’ll want to share with them. What’s the secret you may ask? It is this: They will not be the only kid feeling lots of different emotions about school. Some kids naturally catch on to this, and will comfort the other kids around them. Other children don’t realize that everyone experiences feelings about new experiences, including Kindergarten.
As parents we often have mixed emotions about sending our kids off to school for the first time. While you might not want to share all of those feelings with your child, let them know that you have certain feelings about them attending Kindergarten. You’ll especially want to share your positive feelings. If your child knows that you’re excited for them they’ll likely get at least a little excited, too.
#4- Read Books About Going to School
If you haven’t learned already, there are so many great books out there that are written specifically about going to Kindergarten for the first time! What better way to prepare your kid mentally than to read some fun stories about other kids that are feeling the same emotions as them.
In our house there are three books in particular that we like to read before school starts. They are:
- “Look Out Kindergarten, Here I Come!” by Nancy Carlson
- “Kindergarten Hat” by Janet Lawler
- “My Brave Year of Firsts: Tries, Sighs and High Fives” by Jamie Lee Curtis and Laura Cornell
Now that both girls have exited Kindergarten, we may move past the two Kindergarten books, but we may not. Even though my girls are going into 1st and 3rd grade, these stories can still be relevant to them as they enter a new school year. Reading books about other kids going to school and feeling certain ways can be a fun and helpful way for you to prepare your kid for Kindergarten. They characters in the books may give your child a different perspective and understanding of the feelings that they themselves are feeling. You can find other great books about Kindergarten listed at the bottom of this article.
#5- Create Positive Associations for Your Child
If your child has never been to school before, the only things that they have to create associations with are 1) their own feelings and 2) the words of others. Before Kindergarten starts, you can mentally prepare your kid by helping them to create their own positive associations with Kindergarten and school.
So how do you create positive associations for your child? There are so many ways! Here are just a few ideas:
- Take them shopping for school supplies. As you put items in the cart, talk about what they might use them for at school. Let them pick the colors of certain supplies if they can, too. As you pack their supplies up at home right before school starts, remind them of what you talked about in the store as you were shopping.
- Attend Back-to-School activities. If your child’s school has a night where you can go in to meet the teacher, explore the classroom and meet fellow students…do it! I know not everyone’s schedules can allow for this, but if they do you should definitely take full advantage. When your child is able to see things such as the school, the classroom and their teacher before starting school they are more likely to feel a bit more comfortable with the idea of returning to that same place again.
- Have their siblings recall their favorite parts about Kindergarten. If your child knows that their older sibling has already been to Kindergarten and loved it (or at least part of it) they might be more likely to get a bit more excited over the idea of going to school. Older siblings often play a vital role in the influencing of their younger siblings, so include those big brothers and sisters in the positive conversations!
The more positive associations that you create for your child and the more you remind them of those associations, the less likely school will be this “big, scary place” when the new school year starts.
Mentally Prepare Your Kid for Kindergarten as Soon as Possible
The sooner you start to mentally prepare your kid for kindergarten, the more likely they are to have less emotional issues once the school year starts. Yes, your child will still get nervous. They might cry and they might not want to leave you. But the more that they know about the school year and what to expect, the more mentally prepared they will be.
If you think your child will need a little extra help, reach out to the guidance counselor at your school. We did that with our youngest once she started at her new school. It made all of the difference for my daughter once she knew that she had more than one adult at school that she could trust.
What will you do to mentally prepare your child for Kindergarten? What have you done in the past? Feel free to share any advice that you may have in the comments below!
Until next time..