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Kindergarten: 9 tips to make drop off easier for reluctant kindergartners

It's a scene that's likely playing out at elementary schools across the region this week. A sobbing child, often a kindergartner, clinging to a parent. A bewildered parent, wondering why he can't just walk into the classroom like the rest of the kids and struggling with whether to leave the crying child at school.

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Sarah Lindenfeld Hall
Editor's note: An oldie, but goodie here on Go Ask Mom. Good luck to all the parents and kindergartners out there!

It's a scene that's likely playing out at elementary schools across the region this week. A sobbing child, often a kindergartner, clinging to a parent. A bewildered parent, wondering why he can't just walk into the classroom like the rest of the kids and struggling with whether to leave the crying child at school.

Sherri Lambeth has heard and seen it all before as supporting school readiness co-coordinator for Project Enlightenment, Wake County Public School System's early childhood education and intervention program. Her message: Your child isn't the only one.

"Each year, there are one or two in every classroom who have a difficult time transitioning," Lambeth tells me.

For traditional calendar students, this week is the second week in the classroom for new kindergartners - and the first full week after last week's Labor Day holiday and early release day. Last week's shortened week and longer weekend could make the separation even more difficult for some kids, who are just getting used to the new routines.

"It’s always worse on a Monday," Lambeth said. "It’s always going to be worse on first couple of days of the week."

But there are some strategies to make it easier. By the second or third full week (and I can say this from experience as a parent), it almost always gets better.

Here are nine tips for making kindergarten drop off easier:

Get into a routine: Lambeth suggests parents create a solid bedtime and morning routine for their kids to get them ready for school. At night, it could involve picking out clothes for the next day and packing their lunch together or checking out the school's lunch menu and talking about what the child might pick. In the morning, it should include whatever is required to get them ready for school - from waking up to getting dressed, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and going to school. A routine chart is a great way to help kids stay focused in the morning.
Read books about kindergarten: Head to the library and check out books about going to kindergarten. These can help start up conversations about the fun things they're doing in class or activities they can look forward to. Project Enlightenment's resource center also has a great collection of books available to parents and kids and is open to the public.
Put a family picture in their lunch box or backpack: For little ones who miss their families, these can be helpful for those times when they are feeling sad or need reassurance, Lambeth said.
Play on the playground - together: Have fun family times at school even when class isn't in session. As a family, head to the school playground on the weekends. Ask them what their favorite play piece is. If they're up for a challenge, encourage them to see how far across the monkey bars they can get or whether they were able to go down the tallest slide, for example. During the week, ask them what they did during recess.
Be positive: You may be teary that your baby is headed to school, but buck up. Now is not the time to show just how sad you are about little Timmy heading to big kid school. Get them excited about all of the new friends they are going to make and the fun they'll have on the playground, Lambeth said. "So often children feed on how their parents react," she said. You might want to cry when you drop them off and go for it - once they've walked into their classroom and can't see you. Until that moment, make sure you have a big smiley face on and reassure them that you'll be back - like you always are, Lambeth said.
Make for a quick exit: Don't linger at the doorway to make sure they unpack their lunch box, especially if your child has been teary at drop off. Get out of there, Lambeth said (and, from experience, I agree!). "As hard as it is, the quick drop off is really the best," Lambeth said. "Even if the teacher has to come get your child and take them into the classroom."
Let them stay: For most kids, it's best not to take them home - even if they are sobbing, Lambeth said. And, she acknowledges, that experience can be heartbreaking for a parent. But letting them go home can send the wrong message, she said. "We find that when you take your child then they know that’s what they need to do [to get what they want]. When they cry, they might be able to go home with mom or dad," Lambeth said. "The best thing to do is to leave them."

Lambeth said teachers know how to work with children who miss their mom and dad. And, the good news, (and I also can attest to this), kids are usually tear free within five or 10 minutes after drop off - and sometimes much less.

"It's always harder on the adult than it is on the child," Lambeth said. "More often than not and almost all of the time, children almost always engage in play a very short time after drop off."

Get some intel: Email your teacher to find out how your child is doing after pickup and whether there's anything else you can do to help them with this big step. If you're leaving your child at school crying, email her teacher some talking points that might turn your child's thoughts to happier topics - a favorite book or information about a beloved pet. A teacher, for instance, might have that book in the classroom or can start asking the reluctant child about Spot, her dog, as she brings her into the classroom. Parents also can enlist other parents with kids in their child's classroom to help. If they are volunteering in the classroom later that day or dropping their child off after you leave the school, ask them to text you with the latest on how your child is doing.
Call for help: If a child is still having trouble transitioning into their new school after several weeks, Lambeth encourages parents to contact Project Enlightenment. The center's teacher parent counselors can work with parents and teachers - even visit the classroom - to help families through this big milestone.
Sarah, a mom of two, is Go Ask Mom's editor.

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