My son is 3 years old and will attend his first day of school when he goes to Kindergarten in two years. He currently stays home during the day with his mom and two younger siblings while I work. He is comfortable going to his friends' houses without us, but he is very nervous in new places.
As an example, we take him to soccer practice once each week. The first week he only wanted to hold my hand while the other kids played and did not want to interact with the other kids or the coach. After a few weeks he became more comfortable and he will now play normally as long as I stay at a safe distance.
I know I am thinking about this way in advance and his separation anxiety is likely to improve over the next couple years, but I want to be prepared for the possibility that it might not be completely better. The last thing I want is to drop him off for the first day of school only to pick him up at the end and learn from his teacher that he was inconsolable the entire time.
Here's what we are currently doing to prepare:
- Keep involving him in activities where he will be around other new kids and adults he doesn't know (like soccer practice, swim lessons, etc.)
- We are enrolling him in pre-school this fall with his best friend. We are confident he will be comfortable going to pre-school because his best friend will be there*, but unfortunately we cannot count on him being in the same class as his best friend when he goes to kindergarten because his friend is a couple months older and will be a grade above him.
So I have two questions:
- What else can we do now to help him prepare for being away from us in an unfamiliar environment?
- If the first day of Kindergarten approaches and it becomes apparent that he will have very serious anxiety about it, what should we do next? Some schools may allow parents to stay with their children during the first few days. Is that a good idea, or will we just be a distraction and make things worse when we can't come with him anymore?
*Our son attends a Sunday school class with his best friend and other kids his age he did not know before the class started. The class is taught by a couple adults my wife and I know well be he did not know before attending. He was a little nervous to go the first time but he was okay because his best friend was there with him. He now loves going even when his best friend isn't able to come too. This is why we think he will be okay in pre-school. This could be an invalid assumption though and we may need to worry about this sooner than Kindergarten.