A colleague of mine just told me that her son had a horrific first day at school - kindergarten to be exact - and let Mom and Dad know that he did not want to return. Did he miss the comfort of his child care center which he'd attended for five years with all the familiar faces and places? Was this new school just too big and impersonal? Too many children for one teacher? We don't know but the 'first day' or 'first week' phenomenon is common. It occurs seasonally at elementary schools, throughout the year at early care and education centers, and daily in back-up centers.
For parents, it's a source of grief, worry, frustration and concern. Did I pick the right school? Does his teacher really care about him? How strong do I have to be to walk away? And how guilty should I feel when I'm gone? Often friends and family who have experienced this rite are the best resources on how to help a child through this crisis and how to help ourselves. And we've all heard the tales of the saddest little first day girl who becomes the valedictorian. So something tells us that we and our children will make it. What eases the pain?
- The kindness and interest of a teacher, a director, a principal.
- An assigned 'buddy' to help our child learn the new rules of the game.
- Clear instructions so that a child knows how and where he needs to be
- Great communication from the school or center to the parents plus someone who is available to answer any question.
Whether you've been away from this kind of situation for years or experienced it recently, there's an interesting way to gain empathy for these children. Just remember what it was like the very first day of your present job. Or perhaps the first day of a job you held years ago? You were probably excited about this new opportunity, maybe even dressed in the equivalent of a 'new school outfit.' But dig deep for some of those emotions you felt: Will they remember me from the interview? What do they expect me to do on my first day? Where do I sit? How do I get supplies? Will someone show me the cafeteria? Will someone eat lunch with me? Will I be successful? What eases the 'newness' in this situation? Well, not so different from our young friends.
- A caring boss who is glad to see us
- A 'buddy' who says, 'Let me show you around this place.' 'And let's get some coffee.'
- A first day/week plan
- Information on a 'just in time' basis; not too much, not too little? And someone checking in to see how we're doing.
Did you just drop off your child at a center or school? Did you see personalized kindness in action? Pay it forward at work? As new folks in the workplace we're not so different from children at their first day in school. We need a sense of place, guidance and encouragement. Have lunch with a new colleague. Tell her your story of being the new guy on the block. And share, share, share.