Kindergarten: Successful first day of school separation and launch

Kindergarten, especially the first day of school, is a lesson in letting go for kids and parents. In this big family moment, parents can expect successful separation and launch.

Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic/AP
The first day of school at kindergarten – despite tears – can be a successful lesson in separation and launch. Here, Esabella Mendoza is comforted by her father, Manuel Mendoza on her first day of kindergarten at Eagle College Prep Elementary in Phoenix on July 30, 2012.

I’ve watched first days of kindergarten as a mother and as a school psychologist for almost 40 years. On these days I've seen events that were heart-rending, humorous, embarrassing, and inspiring.

Some schools allow parents to stay for a while. Others forbid them to even enter the room. That usually moves the drama to the hall. I’ve watched teachers skillfully gather the group to a circle for a story and others deal helplessly with three or four crying 5-year-olds. Sometimes I have had to usher the crying 35-year-olds out of the room and to my office. 

So many kids these days have had lots of preschool so the separation is less traumatic, but not for mom and dad, camcorder in hand and tears in their eyes.

For this event I’ve never been able to maintain that professional psychological distance we’re supposed to have. I’ve often shed a few tears even before the parents and the kids, so I took my own babes into this monumental transition wondering if I would fall apart when it was our turn. 

I did – just a little. Some were tears of joy when a friend took my shy daughter under her wing (they are still friends 20 years later). With my son the tears quickly dried with shock when he introduced himself as a “junkyard dog." He was the happiest kindergartener you’ve ever seen. He saved all his tears for the last day of kindergarten when he clung to his beautiful young teacher and sobbed at the prospect of leaving her.

I have often thought that I should take my own camcorder and film what takes place 10 minutes after the parents leave, so they could see how quickly kids adjust. Instead I have made many phone calls reporting how well their child recovered to ease the heart of the parent suffering their own separation.           

At one school, the PTA has a coffee-and-rolls event in the auditorium with lots of tables for signups and information. It is the grown-up version of gathering them for a story and usually eases the parental transition.           

I really treasure this little part of my work. To be present at such a significant moment for so many families is a gift.  When called upon I try to help parents send their child into the big world with the message, “I will miss you too. I know this is a little scary, but I know you can do it. I believe in you, and I can’t wait to hear all about your day.” 

Life is short: childhood is shorter. I believe we should honor this precious time and its painful and joyful steps.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.

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