TORRINGTON – The start of the school year. Amid the smiling teachers and students, flurry of buses and fresh supplies, are emotional parents, dropping off unsure children for their first day of school.
“I remember watching my son start his first day at a new school,” Whitney Taft, Lingle native and mom of three, said. “I waited by the fence to see how he would do. He walked out to the playground and sat alone in the grass, just looking around. I felt helpless, and I cried all day. But to my surprise, when he got home, he said he had a great day and made friends.
“Being a mom and sending your children for the first time – actually every time you send your child to their first day of school – you can have many worries and concerns,” she said. “Mine have always been, will they fit in? Are they going to be nervous without me? How am I supposed to protect them when they’re gone? I’ve come to realize that children, for the most part, are resilient.”
Former school guidance counselor Karen Stricker agrees, adding most children overcome separation anxiety by the end of the first day. After 30-plus years with the Goshen County School District, Stricker currently works as a therapist at New Hope Counseling in Torrington.
She believes the key to handling that often-difficult first day is to be positive.
“No matter how nervous the parent is, they should support their children going out into the world,” she said. “Kids take cues from their caregivers. I think the best thing to do is for the parent to be as positive as possible. Show the kids you approve of what they’re doing and you think it’s a good thing.”
Children may also need reassurance that their caregivers and/or siblings will be OK without them.
“Let them know, as a parent, you’ll be ok,” Stricker said. “Say, ‘I’ll be home. I’ll be fine.’ A lot of times, the kids will worry about parents and siblings. When they get home, be enthusiastic, ask them all about their day and focus on
Additionally, parents should know they aren’t alone in keeping their children happy and well-educated.
“The teachers are wonderful,” Stricker said. “They make sure the students have somebody there to show them where to go and what to do. When I was (working for the district), if you have somebody who’s having a problem, I’d sit with them, talk to them and make a bond. Teachers get very busy, but they always have somebody there that will help with the ones who are really struggling. From what I have observed and when I was at the school, everybody was there to take care of kids and make them feel safe and secure. A lot of times, as soon as the parents leave, the kids calm down.”
Stricker said, in her experience, parents who are concerned may also call the school to ensure their child is adjusting well or ask the teacher to send a note home detailing when a particularly anxious student calmed down.
“Sometimes, it’s just nice to know they’re OK,” Stricker said.
For Taft, although she knows she has more difficult “first days” in her future, she understands it’s a rite of passage critical to her children’s success at school.
“I will be sending my daughter to kindergarten this year, and the same fears and concerns have already started tugging at my heart and my natural instinct as a mother,” she said. “Although it’s hard and the first day is always the hardest, I know she will be fine. I personally think it’s harder on us than the kids. They may be nervous, but they seem to adjust well. I always tell my children to be brave, kind and use their manners. For all parents, it’s OK to be sad, nervous, worried and to shed a few tears – just remember, they will grow and so will we.”