How Teachers Can Deal with a First Day Meltdown

Dear Kid Whisperer,
This will be my second year teaching Kindergarten after fifteen years teaching 3rd grade. Last year I had a student on the first day cause a huge scene when his mom tried to leave. I could only think about how I wanted to go back to third grade. What do I do if it happens this fall? –Keiera, St. Louis, Missouri

Dear Keiera,

I will answer this question in steps:

Step #1: Set the Stage

The first thing you have to do is to set some limits with parents. If parents are going to stay with kids while they have a meltdown in your classroom, it will make the problem worse. Way worse. It must be made clear to parents that the expectation in your room is that the moment a parent says goodbye to their kid the first time, they are expected to leave the room immediately, regardless of the reaction of the kid. This expectation can be set via an open house, email, or during home visits.

Step #2: Locksmithing

If it is in line with your school’s policies, make sure doors have plastic safety doorknobs on the interior so students can’t open them.

Step #3: Get the Proper Mindset

Understand that as long as parents follow the instructions, you are going to be putting all of your students in a position whereby they will either

1) Come into your classroom and do what they are supposed to do
2) Be really sad while they learn that if you don’t walk into school and do what is expected, no one will pay any attention to them

Either way, you win! Your students will be learning academic skills by being cooperative or they will be learning what the expectations at school are by not being cooperative. Either way you will be teaching what each student most needs to know at that moment. And you will be differentiating instruction!

Step #4 Make it So

Having already won by creating a fool-proof plan, you are ready for the first day. Of course, most students choose choice #1. If a student chooses choice #2, I would put my plan into action thusly:

Kid Whisperer: OK, Mom, thanks for coming. Maybe you have time for that last kiss and hug? OK, we’ll see you at the end of the day. (Kid Whisperer leads Mom to the door, shutting it for the moment behind her. Kid tries to open the door, but cannot due to the safety knob).

Kid Whisperer: Oh, no, Kid. I am so glad you are here and so sad that you are having a rough time. Feel free to join us on the carpet as long as soon as you are able to be calm. We would love it if you were able to be with us.

Step #5 Don’t Do Anything Else

Do nothing else to engage the student. Whenever possible, have your back to the student while turning your head enough to keep him in the corner of your eye. You can redirect students who give the fit-thrower attention, but you may be surprised how few students pay any attention to him. Only attend to the child if his actions are about to cause serious or permanent harm to himself or others. If you have an aide in the room, have her attend to any dangerous situations, and all that should be necessary is to simply whisper “Oh, no” and remove an object that that he is using dangerously. The aide should then immediately come back to the group while keeping the child in her peripheral vision.

That’s it. Now go and start hoping that you have a tantrum thrower in your next class so that reading this doesn’t turn out to be a waste of time!