HOW TO HELP YOUR CHILD ADAPT TO PRESCHOOL
So you’ve made the decision to send your child to preschool. You’ve done your research, you’ve completed the round of school visits and you’ve finally decided on the right preschool for you and your child. You’ve done most of the hard work already. Now it’s time for your little one to start and you’re feeling nervous. What if they hate it? What if they spend all day crying? What if they don’t make any friends? What if they don’t join in anything? You have so many questions your head is going around in circles.
First of all, keep calm and recognize that everything you and your child are feeling is completely normal. Separation is a difficult process for both parent and child. As adults we have the advantage of knowing the logic behind our decision but for our children it can be hard to understand why they are being forced to spend time away from us in a strange place. In 99% of cases of children starting school we expect to see some sort of reaction or protest. This is a perfectly natural response to a major change happening in their lives. All we can do is try to make this transition as smooth as possible for them. Your child’s teacher is of course very experienced in these matters but you are experiencing this for the first time so you want to make sure you do your best to support your child through this potentially difficult adjustment. So what should you do? Here are some useful points to keep in mind.
- Don’t think of yourself as a customer of the school but rather as partners of a school team working together for the benefit of your child. Your teachers, the school administration, the cleaners and cooking personnel are all working towards the same purpose: your child’s education, health and happiness. Trust the decisions made by your school’s administration and your child’s teachers. Trust that they are professionals who make decisions based on their training and experience. Even if you are having doubts about how well your child is settling in, never show this in front of your child. Keep your attitude positive to show your child you have complete faith and trust in the school you have chosen. This will help your child to feel safe and secure knowing they are in a home away from home. Ask your school about their adaptation process and how they recommend you approach starting school.
- Try to keep goodbyes as short as possible. There is nothing more painful for both parent and child than a long drawn out goodbye where the child is crying and the parent is trying to comfort them. It’s our parental instinct to try and comfort our child when they are upset but in this situation the child cannot be comforted by prolonging the goodbye as it is only putting off the inevitable separation. Parents should remain calm but positive, say clearly when they will return to pick up their child and leave with a smile on their face. If your school has a camera system for you to take advantage of leave your child at school then come back five minutes later to watch what your child does when they get to the classroom. In most cases you will see your child relaxing and happily exploring the classroom or engaging in activities.
- Try to bring your child to school at the same time and pick them up at the same time every day, especially in the first few months while they are going through the adaptation process. Children find comfort in routines so the sooner going to school becomes part of their routine the better. If your child arrives at the same time every day they will find it easier to adapt as they will know what activity to expect when they get into the classroom. If your child arrives at a different time each day, they could be unsettled by finding their classmates in a different place to where they expected or doing a different activity. This unsettling start to the morning can affect your child’s mood for the rest of the day. By the same token, if you tell your child you will pick them up at a certain time you must be there at that time to ensure the trust between your child, the school and yourselves is not broken.
- Keep the lines of communication between home and school open. Communication is vital for success. Let your child’s teachers know how you think your child is settling in based on your observations at home. Talk to your teachers about their observations in the classroom and share your thoughts with the school’s administration. Whether your experiences are positive or negative it is essential you share your feelings with the school in order to promote your child’s happiness and success. It is important that all communication with your child’s school should be conducted with love and respect as our children learn how to communicate by observing the adults around them.
- One of the most important ways you can help your child be successful at school is by encouraging them to become more independent. Let them try to put on their own shoes and clothes, let them feed themselves and decide when they have eaten enough, encourage them to join in social activities outside of school so they get used to spending time in social situations. Remember that an over protective attitude in parents is a cause of lack of self confidence in children. Doing everything for your child only gives them what they want at that given moment and not what they actually need for their long term healthy development.
- Acknowledge your child’s emotions and allow them to express their feelings. As parents we are often afraid to acknowledge our children’s negative emotions for fear that it will make them feel even worse. In fact a child whose emotions are acknowledged and accepted, whether positive or negative, takes comfort in the knowledge that what they are feeling is normal and that they can express their feelings in a safe place with the people they love the most. A child can often be frightened by their own emotions and their inability to control them so being told by a loved adult that it is ok to feel the way they do provides a healthy environment for them to develop in. How does this look in practice? Try not to disregard your child’s fear at separation time by saying things like, ‘Don’t be silly, there’s nothing to cry about. School is a fun place, you’ll have lots of fun today playing with your friends’. Instead you could acknowledge how they feel by saying ‘I know you’re feeling a bit scared right now and that’s ok. I feel a bit scared when I try new things too. I know you’ll miss me while you’re at school and I’ll miss you too but I’ll be thinking of you all the time and we’ll have lots to tell each other when I pick you up later’.
Most of all it is important to be determined and consistent in your approach and have confidence that you have made the right decision to send your child to preschool and that you have chosen the right school. Your attitude will reflect directly on your child and affect their ability to settle into school.