Last Tuesday, I took my son to Pre-K Orientation. It was great – we met his teachers, became acquainted with his new school building, saw the playground, spent time in his new classroom, and met some of his new friends. On the way out, we practiced saying “goodbye” at the door I’d drop him at the following morning, and he was all smiles. He was so excited for school!
That night, we talked about his teachers, how excited he was for the reading corner and the blocks center and explained to his dad and brother about how he’d be dropped off and wave goodbye with a smile. We placed the bright magenta parent ID tag in my car, looked at the calendar with the next day’s events, and read a social story about going to school (child of a BCBA and Special Education teacher – what can I say?). Before bed, we re-read the social story, and ended with “The Kissing Hand” – a great story about a baby raccoon’s first day at school. He was still so excited for school.
Then came Wednesday morning. We woke up, had his favorite breakfast, and took his annual back-to-school photos by the front porch. His grandma arrived to watch his little brother, and we hopped in the car to drive to school. When we arrived, he started getting a little nervous. He said the school seemed too big. I assured him he’d met his teachers and seen the classroom – it was just one short hallway to get there – no worries. But then the bell rang and the teachers came out to get the students. He panicked. He clung to me and began to cry. He wouldn’t leave my side. I went through the schedule – reminded him that I’d be back to get him in just a couple hours. I used all the tricks I have up my sleeve to make transitions more seamless. Nothing worked – he clung tighter and cried harder. His teachers offered that I could come to the classroom, but I didn’t want to reinforce the negative behavior (again – kid of a BCBA…), so instead, I walked into the building with him. He still clung tight and said “Don’t leave me!” through tears. It was terrible. Finally, when the last parents had left, I looked pleadingly through tear-filled eyes at his teacher and said, “you can take him”. I gave him one last kiss and a big squeeze, and said, “have a great day! I’ll see you soon!” with as much excitement as I could muster. As she pried his sweet fingers off me, she said, “I’ll text you” and I hoped that I’d hear soon that he was smiling and enjoying school.
I held myself together on my way back to the car, and somehow made it safely to the McDonald’s parking lot before crumbling. It was awful.
But – he was fine. I got a text from his teacher within 15 minutes that included a picture of my smiling boy saying he was having a great morning. When I picked him up, he told me he “loved school”, but that he just felt a little sad at first. The next morning, and every morning since, he’s kissed me goodbye at the door and run up the stairs excitedly and completely on his own.
As our kids go back to school, it’s important to remember to give them all the tools we have to help them transition – things like talking about changes, using calendars and agendas, reading social stories, and having special little traditions to look forward to at pick-up time. But, even when all those tricks are in place, it’s still not always easy...and that’s okay. Hold strong for your kiddo – let them see you as a strong front who is confident that they’ll love school and have so much fun. Remember that each day is a new day. Keep in close touch with your child’s teacher and show your child that they are a safe person.
Talk to us and let us help develop interventions to assist with transitions (and reinforcers for great days at school). And if all else fails – text us from the McDonald’s parking lot…we’ve been there, too.