Calming First-Day of Kindergarten Anxiety

composite illustration and photo of mom comforting son who is wearing a backpack

Verywell / Madelyn Goodnight

It’s understandable for children to experience first-day kindergarten anxiety. Imagine what it must be like to suddenly leave the familiar comfort of home and be dropped into a new environment where everything and everyone is different.

There are new routines and new expectations, and Mom and Dad are not around to reassure you and make you feel better. No wonder the first few days of kindergarten can be fraught with tears and nerves for many children.

But there are ways parents and teachers can ease children into kindergarten and help alleviate fears and anxiety in the first days of kindergarten.

Downplay the Milestone

Ratcheting up expectations and highlighting the first day of kindergarten as a really big deal with a capital "D" is likely to backfire if all the fuss makes your child more nervous than they already are.

Instead, try to compare kindergarten to something they are already familiar with, such as preschool or even a kids’ music class they may have enjoyed. Explain that kindergarten will be a place where they will make friends and have fun, just like they may have done with groups of kids before. And as tempting as it might be to record your child’s first day at kindergarten, do leave the video camera at home.

Connect School to Home

Some schools arrange for teachers to meet with students before school starts. Talk to your child’s school about arranging a visit before the first day of kindergarten. Some teachers also ask parents to send in a family photo to be posted in the classroom to help kids feel more connected to their home life while at school.

Having a copy of the daily activities schedule and talking to your child about their day at school can help bring the school into the home.

Read a Book Together About Starting School

Reading about other children who might have fears and anxiety about starting school may be comforting to kids who are experiencing the same feelings. 

Try to Minimize Your Own Anxiety

Just as it’s perfectly normal for your child to feel some anxiety on the first days of kindergarten, it’s absolutely normal for you to feel anxious when you see your child upset. And it’s also understandable that you may experience some frustration when you see other children playing happily and your child is still clinging to your legs for dear life.

But here is the most important thing for you to remember: Your child will adjust to their new classroom eventually. It may take some kids a bit longer than others, but the fact is that it will happen, especially if you respond with understanding and patience and keep your eyes on the prize: a happy child who loves going to school and seeing their friends (it will happen!).

Don’t Stay too Long

Reassure your child that you will be back and say a quick goodbye. Lingering will only make it more difficult for your child to see you go, and they will cry harder the next time because they will see that it’s an effective way to get you to stay. As wrenching as it may be for you to walk away while your child is crying, chances are that they will be playing happily soon after you are out of sight. But don’t sneak out as this may undermine your child’s trust and could worsen separation anxiety.

Identify Your Child's Anxiety

What exactly are they afraid of? Talk to your child and find out what they are worried about. Are they concerned that you won’t return? Are they afraid that someone will be mean to them? Or that they won’t know where the bathroom is or that they won’t know what they're supposed to do?

Once you establish what their specific fears are you will be better able to address their concerns and work with your child and their teacher to find ways to handle them.

Have Faith in the Teachers

Your child will hardly be the only one in the classroom who experiences separation anxiety, nor will they be the first one the teachers have had to comfort after their parent or a caregiver is gone. Experienced teachers will be ready with morning routines, songs, games, and other fun activities to get your child into the swing of things while they adjust to their new surroundings.

Send Along a Favorite Comfort Object

If your child has a favorite lovey, ask your child’s teacher if you can send it along. Most schools have a policy of allowing kids to bring such objects to school but restrict them to cubbies or backpacks and only let kids take them out during rest time. In many cases, just having a favorite comfort object nearby can give kids a sense of security.

Don’t Put a Time Limit on How Long It Should Take

For some kids, first-day kindergarten anxiety may not last beyond a few days if they happen at all. For others, tears and school fears may go on for weeks. Just as each child has their own individual set of experiences and personality and anxiety that may be influencing their feelings about starting school, the time it takes to adjust to school will vary from one child to another.

Before you know it, your reluctant kindergartener will look forward to seeing their friends at school and participating in the activities and games in class. Whether your child's kindergarten anxiety lasts a few days or a few months, it will be a phase they will go through as they grow into confident grade-schooler.

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.