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Going to school for the first time is probably the biggest single social step your child will ever take. He is suddenly confronted by an amazingly expanded world of people and relationships and ventures into this expanded world more or less on his own. How do you help your child make the transition from home to school?

When your child is a toddler you begin to establish the idea he is going to go to school. You read to him and tell him he will learn to read when he goes to school. You point out the school as you drive by and tell him he will be going there when he gets old enough. You talk with enthusiasm about going to school, when you went to school, and when he is going to school. If possible, you take him to school activities, ask what kinds of things he wants to learn when he gets to school, and so on. On the other hand, you avoid conversation about how lonely he will be at school, or how nice it is to be your baby and still be at home, or how it would be nice if he were to stay little forever. Yes, simply establishing the expectation your children will enjoy being at school, and it is a really exciting time in their life will go a long way toward eliminating difficulties in the transition from home to school.

More needs to be done, though. Your child needs to be able to separate himself from you. This comes from participating in pre-school, spending time in daycare as needed, being encouraged to play at the neighbor’s once in a while, being taken to church school and left with the other children, being left with baby-sitters – intentionally put in situations where he learns to deal with and interact with other people, both adults and children.

For children who have had a wide variety of social and educational opportunities and experiences, the transition from home to school is not particularly difficult. They have already made a lot of little social steps into the world, have had experience with being able to return home, have seen relationships with you do not suffer as a result of other social contacts and involvements, and have learned quite a lot about the give and take of relationships, outside of the family. They have already learned something about making friends and choosing playmates, about accepting supervision from other adults. Your children come to see home as a haven, a source of security and renewal from which they can move out to experience and explore and to which they can return for safety and security.

What if your children have not developed this orientation by the time they are to go to school? They have to go to school, ready or not. If necessary, they should be physically taken, placed in a classroom, and left there. This may seen cruel, but they have to go to school. Good parenting does not try to compensate for errors of the past. It starts with your child now, and moves on.

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