The Little Talked About Secret to Back-to-School Readiness

“Here you go. Try again next year,” Claire Charbonneau, a 20-year veteran preschool teacher, told me as she handed me back my then nearly two-year-old son, Caleb.

There was sobbing involved. But it wasn’t Caleb’s tears Claire was concerned about. I had been standing outside the door crying.

“I look out window and cry,” Caleb told me on the way home and relief spread over me. Although I had overheard him talking sternly at his teachers, I never heard him cry. Nonetheless, I thought, to myself, “Oh I did the right thing. He definitely wasn’t ready.”

But it wasn’t necessarily him that wasn’t ready.

It is so much easier to blame the school, teachers or the child when a child has a difficult transition into school, but an often over-looked aspect is the confidence of the parent.

When Caleb started the following year I was ready. Well, at least I was determined for him to start.

His transition was still tear filled, but this time I was ordered by my friend and his new teacher, preschool instructor Mitzi Medrud, to hold it together until I was well on my home from dropping him off.

He still yelled at his teachers.

He pulled Mitzi aside and asked her, “Can you get me outta here?”

He snuck out at nap time in an attempt to walk home.

He even tried the “I looked out the window and cried” routine.

But he was ultimately fine.

I recently interviewed two very distinguished specialists about how to prepare your child for the first day of school for a children’s book I am writing. Dr. Meryl Lipton and Dr. Barbara Kalmanson reiterated this issue.

“It’s just as important for the parents to be emotionally ready,” they told me.

Dr. Kalmanson expanded, “We all have our personal memories of how it felt to go to school. The self-aware parent separates her childhood from their children’s.”

“Oh crap,” I thought when they said this, as it dawned on me that I totally blew my son’s entry into school the first time.

Despite what it felt like at time, it wasn’t really Caleb I was worried about three years ago. He is an incredibly independent child and the extra socialization probably would have been good for him, but my own emotions got in the way.

When my stepson started at the same school in Junior Kindergarten five years ago I was allowed to sit with him until he felt secure (he started mid-year so the school made an exception and let me sit in the class with him). I always thought that made it easier for him, which I’m sure it did, but I never thought about how much easier it made it on me.

This year I feel sad about Caleb being in his last year of pre-k. He is getting so big. And I worry whether or not my daughter Charlotte will be okay in school for the first time with so many new faces.

My now 11-year-old stepson, Roan, is way ahead of me.

“Chris, you’re gonna have to hold it together. You don’t want to embarrass us like you did when Caleb started,” he reminded me recently.

But now I know that on top of embarrassing my tween, falling apart is one of the worst things I can do for my children. Now, to help my kids get ready to start school I am getting myself emotionally prepared for a confident drop-off. I am prepping myself and separating my emotions from my children’s because kids can spot even a little bit of concern in their parents.

We are practicing our morning routine and talking about what we are excited about doing at school, and I show my worries and fears only to my husband and friends.

So, if you find yourself fretting over how your child will adjust to starting school, know that you have quite a bit of power over how it plays out. The more confidence you have, the more your child will have.

So buck up, think of that college sized tuition you paid for this pre-k playtime and put it to the best use by trusting that the school, the teachers and your child are going to be just fine.

This column first appeared in Huffington Post Parents