Kindergarten and first grade are big milestones. Your sweet little tot is leaving their preschooler pond behind to become a tiny fish in a big sea. They’re starting school and learning a new routine, in a new location, with a new teacher, surrounded by new friends. How can your parenting through kindergarten and into elementary reduce anxiety and stress—not just for them, but for you, too? Here are a few things you can focus on to keep your family centered and healthy.
(Remember, every little bit counts! You can’t activate on every good thing right away, so, as you read, pick one little tidbit that stands out to you and go from there!)
It’s good for your kindergarteners and first graders to learn to navigate new groups and follow new leaders, but, developmentally, they still need highly individualized attention to know they matter and are deeply loved. How do you begin to do that?
Remind your child that God is with them, no matter where they go or what they face. Work together to memorize Joshua 1:9. Take time to show them that you notice them and they’re still a star in your book, so they can remain secure in who they are when everything else changes.
But how can you give your kid the attention they crave without manipulating the space-time continuum to add minutes to your day? Use your commute in the car to talk to your child about their interests, read to them while they take a bath, play games like I Spy while you cook (or pick up—no judgment) dinner.
Your kid can open up to you about their interests, their fears, and their anxieties best through art and role-playing, so make paper, crayons, puppets, toys, and dress-up clothes available during any downtime you have. Look for opportunities to play “school” together and act out what it’s like to listen to the teacher, share toys, or do math. Even if you intend to role-play helping friends and your play time derails into a 10-minute conversation about how funny farts are—it’s huge for your kid to know you care enough to join them in the things they’re interested in.
Transitioning into elementary school may cut out daily naps, but it also provides an opportunity to teach your child how to nourish their body and soul by prioritizing the rest God designed our bodies to need.
Some kids just need an earlier bedtime, while others need downtime during the day. Pay attention to your kid’s needs, and make quiet, relaxing activities like reading or drawing available during the day. Teach your kid how to maximize their rest time by thinking and meditating on God and dedicating the time to Him. A simple prayer like, “Thank You, God, for giving us rest. Please be here with us to help us calm down, relax, and stay healthy,” is a good place to start, and can be supplemented with worship songs, a kids’ picture Bible, or, if your kid is a little extravert, some quiet conversation about the good things God has done for your family.
Most kindergarteners and first graders are in a happy place where everyone they share activities with has the potential to be their friend. It’s like 1 John 4:7 is natural for them. Embrace your child’s social optimism, encourage them to continue loving everybody, and begin to teach friendship values now so your child can develop a healthy “best friend” relationship when the time comes (usually the middle or end of first grade).
So how do you help your kid get a good perspective of friendship? Get to know the kids from your child’s class by name so you can better follow conversations with your child as they download their day with you about who played with who, which kids they were at centers with, and who is stealing crayons.
When your kid says great, positive things about others, encourage them. Let your kid know it’s great to share honest compliments. When your child begins to lean toward negative labels for others, dig deeper to find out what’s really going on, either by talking more about it or reaching out to your kid’s teacher.
Practice praying God’s blessings for others your child might label as “mean,” “weird,” or “bad” to teach empathy. Empower your kid with safe ways to continue showing love to kids they struggle with. They can share toys, help them up when they trip, say kind words, and seek the teacher’s help if things get difficult.
The Bible reminds us that healthy friendships are good for us, and help us grow. Help your child develop mutually challenging and supportive friendships by helping them discern which kids in their peer group are consistently making choices that honor God. When a peer stands out as a kind, fun, and potentially godly influence, get to know their parents and set up playdates.
And what do you do if your child is struggling to make friends? Your knowledge of their social environment and who is in it is the first step to letting your kid know they’re not alone and you’re available to help them out. Give your kid an extra hand up by role-playing potentially stressful situations, like when someone calls them a name, someone won’t let them play in a game, or they get in trouble with the teacher in front of everyone. Reach out to your kid’s teacher, too, to get help and find out which kids your child might get along with best.
Knowing Who They Are
When your kid leaves toddlerhood behind and is a legit big kid in a big school, their exposure to new ideas, new choices, and new labels explodes. They’ll learn great tips on building character, working hard, and valuing learning, but they’ll also hear kids being told they’re acting lazy, being disrespectful, and not doing their best work. Add to that the long list of names (both positive and negative) that children call each other. Inevitably, you’ll notice your kid starting to label themselves, others, and sorting people into all kinds of generic groups.
This is a normal stage of development for your kid to walk through. What’s important for you as a parent is to help your child hold on to their true identity in Christ, especially when the labels become negative or just plain wrong. Help your kid remember that they (and all of their peers) are created in God’s image, are chosen by God, and are masterpieces created anew in Christ Jesus to do good things. Your kid needs this affirmation and truth, so work together to memorize what God says about who you, your kid, and others are in Christ.
The bottom line is, no matter which transition you are parenting through or what stage your child is in, parenting is just plain hard. You can do all the right things and say all the right words, but if you are doing it out of your own will and power, it will leave you feeling depleted and you’ll still feel it isn’t enough. Do this great work of parenting in Christ (Psalm 127:1-2). Care for your own soul by letting go of complete control and leaving your kid in His hands. Your health—spiritual, mental, and physical—is more important to parenting your child than any amount of volunteering you do in their classroom, deep conversation you have, or sport you enroll your kid in. So take a deep breath, ask God for help, and get excited for this new season of parenting.