My Baby is Going to Kindergarten

Dear Abbie,
My oldest son is starting kindergarten in the Spanish immersion program at Kings Beach Elementary this week. We've got a lot of jitters around here (me included) and extra clingy-ness. I'd love to hear about your experiences or any words of wisdom on helping transition to kindergarten especially in the immersion program.
Thank you,
Kindergarten Mom


Dear Kindergarten Mom,
Congratulations on this momentous milestone! What work you've done to raise this future kindergartener. Here are some of my thoughts on the big transition. 

1. BREATHE. I would like for you to first think about yourself in this process. As a mother myself, I am finding that we often go through our child's transitions, too. Meaning we have our own "stuff" to process, get through, and learn from when something new is happening in our child's life. That's the beauty of being a parent. We don't just watch on the sidelines, we are in it! So please take some time to congratulate yourself on the tremendous role you've taken on, and the grief you are going to have. I have had many first days of kindergarten as the teacher, and I have seen many tears from the parents, too. Let your tears fall if you need to, because your child will sense it if you are upset anyway. 

2. LET GO OF THE NOTION THAT THERE IS A PERFECT GOODBYE. The perfect goodbye in my mind is when the child has their emotions acknowledged, and then the space to move through them without distraction. So if he is upset, acknowledge it. Say, "you're upset". And give space. Maybe you ask if he needs a hug. Or to clarify what kind of upset he is: sad, angry, frustrated, etc. Or ask him, "What do you want to do about being upset?" It is a gift to yourself (and your stress levels) if you can let go of wanting to fix your child's sad emotions. Yes, guide him and support him, but the real work around his resiliency is in the time he has to see his emotion, feel it in his body, then literally get "through" it. And resilience builds when he has that practice of getting to know his discomforts and finding a way to move on without distraction from the issue. 

3. TRANSITIONS TAKE TIME TO SETTLE IN. There is so much emphasis on the first day of school and how it goes, that sometimes parents are over comforted when the day is a success, or distraught if the day was too challenging. It's a marathon. And marathons are a lot of steady work with ups and downs. When parents asked Magda Gerber for her advice in times of transition, she would always ask them what is going to remain predictable. So keep the routines and schedules you can, and also remind your child about them by talking them out. "In the morning, you are going to wake up and we are going to...", and "after school you will... and when you get home, just like a normal day, we are going to..."

4. BEING CLINGY IS NORMAL. There are so many "normal" behaviors that children express because it's how they are able to deal with the moments in their rapidly changing world. Don't forget how much brain activity and growth they are going through. And then the physical growth- could we just slow it down a bit? I wish! So all of those things are developing, and it creates a lot of work on the body. Then you have new environments and transitions like this one. So it makes sense he is clingy. Look at the reason and address his need. Behavior means there is a need. Ask, "do you want to be close to me because you're feeling upset?", and wait for a response. Talk about what he has going on in his heart, mind, and body by asking him to check in. And then asking how you can support him. And again, there's a lot going on for him that he needs to feel. That's healthy child development that leads to self-regulation. We don't want children to be numb to their feelings. And it will pass!

5. SPANISH IS WHOLE 'NOTHER LANGUAGE. It takes a long time to learn, and even more time to become bilingual. There is a period of culture shock, language shock, and discomfort when being immersed. I lived in Mexico in a study abroad program and man, did my head hurt at the end of some days. So find ways to acknowledge this strain on your child's whole system. Give him rest at the end of the day. Listen to his concerns without trying to solve them. And expect behavior to pop up like frustration, irritability, and anything else that might come along. Tell yourself it's because there is a lot going on in his brain, and even regular school burns a lot of calories. 

Each child is different in his/her language learning journey. I found that after a few months of engaging lessons, fun songs and activities, teaching a love of books, and the same routines, English-speaking students were able to understand the basics and feel comfortable throughout the day in an immersion setting. And again, I'll mention the "marathon" for bilingualism. It takes many years for a child to acquire a language socially and academically. 5-7 years is what the research from Thomas and Collier shows. The program will guide him to become proficient in Spanish. My concern is giving him the emotional support he will crave. You can do it!

6. GIVE YOUR CHILD'S TEACHER YOUR VOTE OF CONFIDENCE. This is a great way to start your year-long relationship. (I am using the words "her" and "she" because I think all of the teachers this year are female.) Each teacher has her own unique style and personality, and it's nice to let her know you trust her and also want to see her abilities shine. Remember when you first met him as a baby how long it took you to "figure him out"? Trust his teacher as a professional with experience and training that she can help your child thrive. If you start out with confidence, that's a perfect foundation for the year! And because the role is so demanding, teachers really like to hear "thank you for all we see you do and all we don't see you do", just a side note. 

I wish you luck!

Your Parenting Partner,