Giving up summer with our children is not easy and never will be. The absence of a demanding schedule, the more relaxed routines, the sense that not everything has to be about preparing for a successful future, the delight of a last-minute adventure, vacation family time, yummy summer eats—it’s a long, sweet list. While the return of a schedule for which you are not responsible and a little less chaos overall can make us welcome the start of the school year, we can’t guarantee a smooth transition. A common temptation is to start grilling our offspring about school readiness stuff in a vain, but well-meaning, attempt to anticipate trouble and cut it off at the root. Examples of some things a four-year-old might say to some seemingly innocent inquiries from mom or dad include “I wasn’t worried about my new class until you asked me if I was” or “I don’t know if I want to see my friends from last year” or “Maybe they won’t like me.” Here are four questions you may want to reconsider asking.

  • “Are you excited about going back to school?” Most preschoolers feel a mix of emotions such as excitement, uncertainty, curiosity, and/or fear, and not all at the same time, so it’s hard to answer this one directly. Instead, let them overhear you talking to family or friends about getting ready to send them back, and some of your own mixed feelings, just to let them know this is an okay topic. Doing this may help encourage them to ask their questions about going back, to which you can then listen carefully and deal with where they are about going back, not just where you are.
  • “Do you want to practice your letters and numbers to get ready for school?” Tempting, isn’t it, since you know practice will help them in re-entry? Instead, it often makes a preschooler think he’s already a little behind because he hasn’t been doing his due diligence. Instead, in early August, start saying things like “Can you find the letter A in the billboards along the road?” Playing small games like this may help him get back in the swing of identification without feeling like it’s a “getting-ready-for-school thing” and is more a “growing-up thing.”
  • “Anything special you want to do to celebrate the end of summer (Labor Day, etc.)?” Of course we want to please our kids by giving them what they want, but this question carries with it the idea that something serious is about to happen to summer and they’d better get in their goodbyes. Instead, use the last long weekend for family time that is more laid back than what is to come in September, and talk about how much these times mean to you as a mom, dad, family, etc. and how you look forward to more of them. That feels less like a summer funeral and more a promise of things to come. They are likely to get the hint.
  • “When you do want to start getting ready to go to bed earlier to get ready for school mornings?” This question may seem like you are trying to partner up with them on this issue, but it’s just better to get it started without their consent, which you are pretty unlikely to obtain.

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