Empty Nest Syndrome: Kindergarten Version

“As I watched him head toward the doors of the school, with his backpack almost as big as he was, he was quickly lost in the sea of other children. I couldn’t find him again in the crowd…would he really be okay? I was so excited about having this day to myself – finally. But honestly, it was a long afternoon until he bounded off the bus to tell me all about his day.”  

Are you getting ready to send your youngest child off to kindergarten this school year?

Although you might be feeling excited and happy about this important milestone, you may also be experiencing some unexpected sadness about seeing your “baby” enter this new, more independent phase of childhood.

kindergarten empty nest syndrome; mom accompanies her son's child with a backpack to school or kindergarten, and back to school

Whether you’re an at-home parent or work outside the home, having a child begin all day school will likely have a major impact on your family’s daily routine. Some moms adapt quickly to the change. “It was fabulous!” says Indy’s Child Facebook reader Theresa Y. “Errands by myself, lots of reorganizing and able to get rid of things [the] kids would never let me if they were watching over my shoulder!” Other parents, however, may struggle to adjust to having an empty house during the day.

Whether you’re on one end of the spectrum or somewhere in the middle, read on for expert advice on preparing for this transition and handling the emotions that come with it in a healthy way.

What to expect

However you feel as the first day of school approaches, it’s probably normal. Parents may find themselves feeling happy, sad, anxious, nervous or excited about sending their youngest child to kindergarten, says Lindsay Pietroski, kindergarten teacher at The Seven Hills School Doherty Campus.

Mixed feelings are to be expected. “Some parents may experience ambivalence related to their child’s increasing independence and associated changes in the parent-child relationship,” says Jeffrey R. Strawn, MD, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Pediatrics at UC Health and Board Certified Child & Adolescent Psychiatrist.

A variety of factors can affect the ease with which a parent handles this transition. Pietroski believes parents who are accustomed to being at home with their children tend to have more difficulty. They may find themselves missing the child’s companionship and wonder what to do with their new free time. In addition, the number of children in the family may play a role, she says. Parents of only children face special challenges, since they are sending their “first child” and “last child” to school simultaneously. The personality of the particular child involved can also have an impact.

Finding your new normal

If you are struggling to let go of your last little one, it’s important to come up with a strategy for handling your emotions productively for your child’s benefit. “If a parent is overwhelmed by anxiety about the beginning of school, this may result in a child having increased anxiety about school,” says Dr. Strawn.

Looking for some concrete ways to make this tricky transition easier? Our experts offer the following suggestions.

  • Share your feelings with others. Initiate conversations with other parents who have recently faced the same transition.
  • Have a conversation with your child about the upcoming school year. Dr. Strawn suggests talking about your own first day and helping your child “imagine” what his or her school experience might be like.
  • Find books related to the subject. Pietroski recommends The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn which helps both children and parents prepare for the first day of school.
  • If you are an at-home parent, come up with a plan for staying busy during your free time says Pietroski. This may include exploring a new hobby or getting involved with your child’s school. There are also volunteer options before and after school or during special events for parents who work outside the home who aren’t available during the school day.
  • Before deciding that a major lifestyle change might be an antidote to your situation, realize that this transition is temporary. Take a “wait and watch” approach before making any major decisions says Dr. Strawn.
  • Seek support. Contact a professional if your feelings start to interfere with your relationships, your work or daily functioning or if you believe you may be suffering from anxiety or depression.

While sending your youngest child off to school can prompt some difficult emotions for parents, try to embrace the positive aspects of this transition. Pietroski believes this time should be an exciting one, full of growth and learning for both parent and child. “Kindergarten is just so much fun!” she says. By thinking about your back-to-school game plan early in the process, you can lay the foundation for a successful school year for everyone in your family.

Indy's Child
Indy's Child
For 40 years, Indy's Child has been the trusted source for Indianapolis families seeking fun, educational, and enriching experiences. Our award-winning magazine and website are dedicated to providing expert advice, insider tips, and up-to-date information on everything from the best local attractions and events to parenting resources and support. As local experts deeply rooted in the central Indiana community, our passionate team at Indy's Child is dedicated to uncovering the best family-friendly experiences and resources our city has to offer. Whether you're new to parenting or looking for new ideas, Indy's Child is here to help you enjoy the adventure of raising a family in central Indiana.

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