Make time to be alone—and have an ugly cry
No matter how many books—or articles just like this one—you read, you will likely still feel a twang in your heart as you walk hand-in-hand with your kindergartner into the classroom, only to head back to your car solo. Feel like having a snotty-nosed, red-eyed tantrum in the parking lot? Stephanie O'Leary
, Ph.D, clinical psychologist, gives you full permission to ugly cry it out. (Well, perhaps not for the elementary school guard to see, but in a space that feel comfortable.) "Give yourself some alone time to be emotional. It's natural and expected to be experiencing a wave of emotions as your little one prepares to pack up and head to school for the first time, and it's important to honor your feelings," she explains. Feel shame about being emotional? Don't. Here are some surprising benefits of crying.
Turn your anxiety into excitement
So you're worried about how your child will fit in. If they'll make friends. If they'll be bullied. There are all sorts of thoughts racing through your mind, and guess what? They're 100 percent normal, explains Adam Pletter, Psy.D
, child psychologist. He suggests leaning into the anxieties, instead of fighting them, but with a helpful twist: turn the worries into excitement. "There is growing research that feeling excitement activates the part of the brain that helps the individual problem solve, which helps the parent and child cope. Accepting the nervousness as normal and then shifting to feeling excited about aspects of the changing role as parent will help everyone involved cope more effectively and that is the goal: coping with the change and feeling in control as much as possible," he explains. If nothing else helps, these phrases will instantly calm your nerves.
Be your child's rock—and remember he (will always) need you
So while expressing your emotions is a healthy habit, Dr. O'Leary reminds parents how essential it is to remain your child's rock throughout the transition to kindergarten. Because your child depends on you to be his steady, guiding force of love and encouragement, openly weeping in front of him may ignite fears surrounding school. "A quick, sentimental, smiling tear may slip out on the first day, but remember it's important to send your child the message of, 'You've got this!' Focusing on supporting your child in this way allows you to highlight your son or daughter's strengths, which will leave you feeling a bit more optimistic and less stressed," she says. One sweet, memorable and helpful way to shift the conversation positively is to talk to your child about going to school. Dr. O'Leary suggests having an open conversation about what they hope their year of school will be like and guiding them through notes or drawings. "You may be pleasantly surprised by your child's goals and aspirations! Use this as a source of inspiration for you and your child," she adds. Looking for easy ways to give your kiddo a pep talk? Get started with these small ways to encourage your kids every day.
Try to stay busy
You know what your grandmother always said, "An idle mind is a dangerous thing." If you have younger children, you may be able to more easily distract yourself by tending to their needs than a mom of an only child, but either way, you'll still feel your babe's absence. Dr. O'Leary says one of the most effective ways to maintain your sanity—and slowly release your control-freak tendencies!—is to keep yourself occupied. "The hardest way to pass time is to stare at the clock and wait until the school day is over. If you're home, take on a project or plan to spend some time with a friend. If you're at work, focus on the task at hand and try to avoid repeatedly checking your phone," she says. Stuck for ideas? Here's how to find a new hobby that you'll love
Don't be too hard on yourself
First rule of parenting (that's often the one that takes the longest time to learn)? Resist the reflex to judge other parents—and that includes yourself. If you're not feeling super sad about your child going to kindergarten? Normal. If you are mildly freaking out? Also normal. Dr. O'Leary explains the more pressure you put yon yourself to mold into a specific bucket, the more stressful the transition will feel. "Every parent experiences the hallmarks of growing up differently. Accept your emotions and keep in mind there's no single right way to step into the role of kindergarten mom," she reminds.
Keep your expectations realistic
Instead of watching your child pick out their very first backpack, you might be Googling studies about what Harvard grads were like in their first years of school. Repeat after us: stop it! One way to manage your own worries about your child starting kindergarten is to focus on the here-and-now feelings and avoid focusing on the future. Not only does doing so put unrealistic expectations on you and your child, but it dissolves the precious childhood experience. "Nobody gets an academic scholarship offer after kindergarten. Be careful not to make up stories about how your child will do based on their first year since a lot changes during this time, including you," says Kevin Gilliland
, Ph.D, psychologist and author.
Focus on your 'me' time
Since the moment you found out you were expecting, all of your attention (and your time, energy, love, sweat, tears) have been hyper-focused on your baby. Guess what? That baby is now a full-fledged duckling, heading off to start exploring the world outside of your home for the first time. And now, with extra hours on your hands between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., you can turn your attention inwards, for the first time in a long time. "You can now have more personal time to take care of yourself and catch up on things and people that you didn't have time for before," explains Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D, a Los-Angeles based psychologist. "You need to realize that by letting your child progress developmentally in kindergarten, you can have time to be more than just a 'mom' and may even become a better mom because you're leading a more balanced life."
Encourage your child's independence
We won't lie to you, throughout your kiddo's first year of school, you'll watch them change. They'll become more confident, come home telling you stories from the classroom and increasingly sprout their independent wings. And while you'll be thrilled to see them soar high, you'll also struggle to accept they're not your super-dependent baby anymore. "Parents are more likely to struggle with this adjustment when they deny that their own role as mom or dad is also changing. Not only is the child's world evolving as they grow, but the parent's world is also changing. Accepting this reality is key," Dr. Pletter says. Remember, mama, your tough gal and your sweet boy will only continue to explore new worlds, have adventures, and expand their minds. But no matter where they roam—even those not-so-scary elementary school hallways—they'll always love their mom.