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Surviving your child’s first day of kindergarten

by Liz Marchant

The first day of kindergarten is a bittersweet parenting experience. Even though that little person walking through the gates hauling an oversized backpack will always be your baby, the first day of kindergarten is a clear milestone that your child is becoming a kid.

And becoming a kid brings more independence from parents, which means gradually letting go of our babies. It’s a rite of passage and a good thing, yet the process can sometimes hurt.

There is much advice floating around about how to prepare your little one for their first day of kindergarten, but less about how to prepare you. And there is no sugar-coating it, the first day of kindergarten is just as big for parents as it is for children.

Across our team we’ve experienced 17 first days of kindergarten over the last decade. We hope our collective tips will take some of the stress out of the day and help you to cherish this once in a lifetime event.

Wake early

On this first day of a new routine set the alarm a little earlier than usual. Starting kindergarten means starting new morning patterns, including packing the lunchbox, dressing in a uniform and finishing breakfast in time to reach school, find a car park and walk in before the bell. And you need to get ready for your day too. Arriving at school early on Day One means you’ll have plenty of time to find the classroom, point out the toilets and get your little one settled without time pressure. Whether your child is excited, nervous or relaxed about the day, a little extra time is helpful to calm nerves, celebrate this new beginning or just spend a few quiet minutes together.

Take pictures

The first day of kindergarten is a momentous milestone so capture some moments with pictures. If your child is comfortable, take a short video as they talk about the day ahead. No matter what they say or do in that video, it will always remind you both of how their school journey began. Many parents take school pictures before school starts. Our tip is to take pictures afterwards when there is usually more time and everyone is more relaxed.

Managing the goodbye

The best goodbye is a fast goodbye. Prepare your little one by letting them know you need to leave a few minutes after the bell rings. Maybe practice in the days leading up to the first day of school. Say goodbye firmly, quickly and kindly and include your usual farewell routines. Even if your little one has to be peeled from your arm as you leave, know they will settle after a few minutes. Kindergarten teachers are masters of distraction and the business of the first day will soon divert your little one’s attention from your departure.

Bonding moments

As you leave the school there will doubtless be other parents clustering into small groups to compare notes on the first day of kindergarten. Bonding over the shared experience of how hard it is to let go or say goodbye or pack a good lunchbox is one of the times when seeds of new friendships are sown. If you can make the time, join in and bond with the other parents who are experiencing the same milestone as you.

There might be tears

Everyone has different emotional reactions to the first day of kindergarten. You might find it’s an exhilarating day of new beginnings and head off happily to the rest of your day. Or you might feel aching loss that your baby is gone. It’s normal for tears to build and healthy to let them out. If possible, save the crying for when your little one is safely out of sight in their classroom. Many kids get distressed when their parents are upset, especially if they sense that they are the reason for the upset.

Be kind to yourself

After you leave school expect a range of emotions. It might be sadness as you reflect on the end of childhood. It might be stress as you realise that a new set of logistical challenges has just arrived. It might be relief that this day is finally here. Whatever the day brings, be kind to yourself. Take 15 minutes for a quick walk in the sunshine, to enjoy a hot drink or to read your favourite book or magazine.

Once you’ve left school, time will accelerate. Before you know, it’ll be 3pm and you’ll be back at the school gate preparing to deal with whatever adventures your little one experienced today.

What other tips have you used, or been told, to survive the first day of kindergarten?