When young children go to school for the first time, mom and dad can be anxious, too

August 16, 2012|By AMY DULEBOHN |
  • Starting school can be emotionally difficult for parents as well as children. However, it is important for parents' to maintain a brave face.
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Roseanne Horst said she never expected to be an emotional mom when the time came to send her children to school.

But she was wrong. The mother of three said when the time came for her children, Tyler, now 11, Lindsey, 9, and Cole, 6, to leave home for the classroom at Heritage Academy, west of Hagerstown, she said she had to keep her emotions in check and give her children the support they needed to start a new chapter in their lives.

“The biggest thing is that they’re getting older,” she said during a telephone interview from her home near Clear Spring while she peeled fresh peaches.

Horst said of Tyler, who is going into sixth grade Monday, “He was growing up ... and (I had to put) him in someone else’s care for the whole day.”

But his mother tried to look on the bright side. “I had to tell myself this is a new phase of life and this would be OK,” Horst said.

Two years later, it was time for Lindsey to start school. Horst said her daughter is the shyest of her and husband Keith’s three children. They knew getting her ready for the classroom would be more of a challenge than it was for Tyler. Horst said she and her husband prayed and asked God to help the young girl prepare for being away from home and around other people.

The summer before kindergarten, they sent Lindsey for a week of swimming lessons without Mom or Dad. At first, it didn’t go so well.

“She screamed her head off,”  Horst recalled. “But by the end of the week she was fine. I think that really helped prepare her (for school),” she said.

Horst said letting go of youngest son Cole last year was the most difficult for her. “I knew this was our last,” she said.

Horst takes the kids to school as Heritage does not offer busing, “I pushed myself out of their classrooms,” she said of the first few days of a new school year.

As for other parents who might feel some anxiety about the first day of classes, which is Wednesday for students attending Washington County Public Schools, Horst has some advice.

“If (your) child expresses interest in being their own person, left them. Be there for them when they need it, but don’t try to hang onto them and baby them,” she said.

Tips for parents

Going to preschool or kindergarten for the first time can be scary — both for kids and their parents. Even if your child has been in school or day care before, a different classroom, teacher, and set of students can be disorienting.

• Separation anxiety

Keep in mind that separation anxiety is usually a reflection of the strong bond between you and your child.

• Visit before the first day.

Many schools have an orientation program or will allow you to see the classroom and try out the playground equipment. You might even arrange a playdate with one or two other kids in the class so that your child will see some familiar faces.

• Get psyched with stories.

A few books about going to school that children and parents might enjoy include, “Will I Have a Friend?” by Miriam Cohen; “I Love You All Day Long,” by Francesca Rusackas; and “Owen,” by Kevin Henkes.

• Don’t linger.

Staying longer in the classroom or in the hall is not necessarily better. Instead, tell your child exactly what will happen: “I’ll stay with you for five minutes, and then I have to leave” or “I will read you one book, and then I need to go.” Do not sneak out without saying goodbye.

• Encourage imagination.

Ask your child how her favorite cartoon character would handle the situation, and suggest that she imagine herself as that character. Pretending to be Dora the Explorer or Spider-Man might give your child the extra dose of confidence that he or she needs to face the classroom.

• Create a goodbye routine.

A series of hugs, a secret handshake, a high five can help you soothe anxiety for you and your child.

• Put on a brave smile.

Children are good at sensing insecurities in parents, so if you are anxious, it’s more likely that your child will be too. And no matter how long it takes for your child to adjust to his new school, be sure to let him know how proud you are of him.

— Tips available online at

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