“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn”. Benjamin Franklin.
Throughout childhood, children face many changes. These changes can be small and go unnoticed, or they can be big and life-changing like the beginning of the preschool. Parents' involvement in their child’s transition from home to the preschool setting can not be stressed enough. With the support of a caring parent, this transition can be a positive experience for a child, giving him or her a sense of self-confidence and accomplishment. Starting your child in a new toddler or preschool program can be an important moment in your family’s life, because each child is an individual and has a different temperament and reaction to separating from their parents. Some children push their parents while others might cry and seem inconsolable. Here are a few ideas that can help ease your child into a group care experience:
1. Schedule a visit. At L’Academy, we use our in-take meetings with parents and the visit time for your child in the classroom as a time to get to know you and your little one. We want to know if your child likes or dislikes certain things. It’s a great way for everyone to get comfortable. Invite your child to work with the materials and introduce them to their teachers, explaining who they are and that they will be their new teachers. Also, modeling play with your child in the school is a great ice-breaker. You can get down to their level and build with blocks with them. These meetings are a time to exchange vital information with the teachers and administrators, such as your child’s favorite song, favorite activities, health history and food preferences. It's also a great opportunity to familiarize your child with the expectations for departure. Teachers can offer insight and assistance with their experience.
2. Prepare your child by talking about the new school. Mention names of the new teachers; talk about what will happen next; and reassure your child that you will always come back to them each day. Books are a great way to start to talk about the transition. Here are a few that children may enjoy:
Maisie Goes to Preschool by Lucie Cousins
Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney
The Kissing Hand by Audrey Penn
Froggy Goes to School by Jonathan London
3. Create opportunities that give your child some experience of you going away for a short time, but returning consistently so it will be more familiar. Practice with grandparents, or other family/friends you feel comfortable with. You can leave for an hour and then return. This can build confidence, that yes, you will come back.
4. Be flexible and patient. Your child will show you what they need. It could be that extra hug, or remembering their lovey for nap time, a note in their lunchbox, or staying that extra 5 minutes at drop-off can really help. When parents model that school is fun and that they too like to play with preschool toys, well that is a wonderful way to get your child excited for their new home away from home.
5. Allow for changes to your and your child’s schedule. Allow for children to adjust to separating from parents. It may help to start the first week of preschool with a shorter day, if you can arrange to come at midday for the first few days, then a bit later each day can be helpful. Follow your child, listen to their cues and tailor the experience to their emerging needs. For example, if your child is crying all morning, you can call the school and talk to your child over the phone, reassure them that you are coming back at a very specific time, then make sure to return at the time you said, this builds confidence for your child. Also, please do say goodbye to your child; quietly leaving without a goodbye is not recommended.
6. The power of routine. Routines are part of the fabric of all our lives, including your child’s! Doing the same thing each morning as you get ready with your child is helpful. You can create traditions of your own, such as smelling the flowers by the school or singing a song with your child on the way to school. These all help create a feeling of normalcy and familiarity which in turn, makes the morning run more smoothly.
7. Lastly, it’s important to have realistic expectations for yourself as well as for your child. When a child cries when separating from their primary caregiver it’s a normal expression. You may feel like you are not the one who is ready for preschool, allow yourself to feel those feelings as well.
Click here for an additional article on how to ease your child's separation anxiety.