It doesn't matter if your child is eighteen months or eighteen years old... you remember that first day of school. The palpitations wondering whether you've chosen the right program, whether the teachers will really understand how much you love your child, whether your little one will feel safe and at ease, the unspoken guilt you might feel at looking forward to the time on your own, and that dreaded fear that maybe you haven't packed everything they need.
You're going to be ok.
Let me say that again: You're going to be ok.
You've done all the things you were supposed to do to prepare for the first day of school. Now you just have to get through it. Some things to keep in mind:
The best laid plans of mice and men... No matter how confident you are in how your child will respond on that first day, be prepared that they may surprise you. Our children are constantly reminding us that they are more capable and more complicated than we give them credit for. Your child, empathetic to all the other emotions in the room that morning, may not respond to the transition exactly as you've imagined. Don't put too much stock in the first day reaction as an indicator of things to come. Instead, be prepared for a wide range of responses, from ease to anxiety, and know that your child's teacher will be available to talk to you later if an unpredicted transition becomes a routine.
Arrive on time. Your child's teachers have planned the amount of arrival time based on how much they know the children will reasonably need to transition. Allow your child the time their teachers' expertise suggests, and decrease the stress of the first day by avoiding that panic of running late.
Be calm, be confident, and be concise. The first day is not the time to ask questions of your child's teacher. Get those answered beforehand so that, when you're dropping off your child, you can be attentive to their transition alone. Your child is looking to you for cues about how they should react. If you are at ease, they will know that you feel safe in this space. Likewise, if you're jittery and tense, they may doubt why you're leaving them someplace you're not so sure about. Practice your confident smile and your casual, "See you later!" so you can model that ease (even if the butterflies are busy in your tummy.)
Stay as long as you've been invited to, but no longer. Lots of smooth transitions are derailed by parents who, with great intentions, insist on calling back to their busy children to say goodbye one more time. Avoid chatting with other parents or teachers after you've said goodbye to your child. Instead, offer that sweet hug or kiss, a confident, "I'll see you soon," and get out the door. Extending goodbyes doesn't offer as much comfort... instead, it prolongs the process and suggests to your child that you might not be ready to go.
And then, of course, check in with the school office or, after dismissal, with your child's teacher, to see how it went once you were gone. While the very first day is often too rich with emotion to be a reliable predictor of how things will unfold, your child's teachers will be attentive to patterns that they want to share with you. Keep that communication open, including letting them know if you're feeling ill at ease. While they are likely to remind you that, more often than not, everything is ok, it's still useful for them to know if your own anxiety isn't waning or if you need some more connection to other parents and community as you move through your own emotions at your child being old enough and ready for school. Conversations between parents and teachers work best when both are comfortable acknowledging the parts of this process that are hard, that are emotional or that they need to feel more support for. You and your child are both learning to go to school now. Reach out for the care you need, and turn it quickly into a shared focus on your child.