Well, it is almost time for school to begin! In a short time you will be bringing your preschooler through our new front doors and into her new classroom. Let’s talk about some of the challenges and adventures of the beginning of school.
Starting school is a wonderful new adventure for children. Your child will feel excited when you buy him a new backpack or lunch box for school. Going to school is a rite of passage, it is part of becoming bigger and stronger and growing up. We all wish this for our little ones, but how do we make it as easy a transition as possible for the children and for you, the parents?
Tips For Helping Your Child With Pre-School Jitters
- Visit the school in advance. Your child should have an opportunity to meet the teacher, perhaps find her cubby and become familiar with the classroom in advance. Our Sneak-A-Peak gathering is a great opportunity for your child to see how much fun preschool will be.
- Tell your child what to expect. If your child hears and sees that your have confidence in the preschool environment and the teachers, then your child will be more confident. Let her know how her day will be structured-with group play, circle time, dance, art, snack, playground time, and rest time, for instance. Encourage questions-about snack time, visiting the bathroom, making friends, and of course, missing you. Answer each question in a positive and relaxed tone.
- Come and go. For a few weeks, leave your child with grandparents or a babysitter more often than usual, and show him that you’ll come back when you say you will.
- Be on time. If you get to school late in the morning, it’ll make your child feel anxious. It’s equally important for you to be five minutes early for pickup (but don’t let your child see you before dismissal). It’s very hard for a child to be the last one left after everyone else has gone home. Invent a voyage. Get him excited about the adventure of the daily trip to school. Will he get to spend time in the car with Daddy each morning? Maybe there’s a fun walk with Grandma in his future? Narrate the story of how he’ll get to his destination with lots of colorful details. Do a dry run so he’ll know what to expect.
- Inform your child. Tell your child in advance about the plan for the day. Relating the pick-up time to a specific activity works very well for young children because they have a limited concept of time. Be detailed, tell her about the games she’ll play, the kids she’ll meet, and how you’ll always be there to pick her up after recess for example.
- Let your child know what you will be doing. While she is at preschool, make sure your child knows what you will be doing. “Mommy will be working while you are at school. I will see you after my work is done and after you have played with your new friends.” Your child may think you are home playing house without her, making the separation difficult, so always let her know you will be doing a grown up activity while she is at school, not at home playing with little sister all day.
- Create a Goodbye Ritual. For instance you can say, “It’s time to wave to each other now through the window.” Or decide how many hugs you’ll give each other, or how many books you’ll read before you leave each day. This gives your child a feeling of some control over the separation. Never sneak out when your child is engaged in an activity — on the first day or any other. You don’t want him to think that the important adults in his life just disappear. When you drop your child off in the morning, don’t linger. It can make him more anxious. Enlist the teacher’s help. Skilled teachers are ready to cradle your child when he is having a difficult time.
- Set up a play date. Invite a classmate to the park or the beach. (Try to do this before school begins, if possible.) If your child has one friend at school, she will feel more comfortable.
- Talk the talk. Playing school with your child can be a great help. You can use role-playing or dolls to act out the school routine and the smooth separation. School has a language all its own. So rename your everyday activities using preschoolese. When you paint or color, call it “art time” and do it in a designated “art corner.” When your child eats her afternoon milk and cookies, it’s “snack time.” No more nap — it’s “rest time” (you might even put a mat on the floor).
- Comfort your child. Place a picture of home, family, or a family pet in her backpack. This will serve as a comfort to your child during the school day.
- Be positive. Your child will take her cues from you, so be calm and confident that everything will go well. Don’t let her see that you’re nervous or overhear you saying things like “I can’t believe my baby’s going to preschool!” Ask specific questions about fun things in your child’s day, such as “What did you have for snack?” or “What songs did you sing?” and use her answers to talk to her about school the next morning.
These ten (oops! eleven) tips are a great start, and they will help your child make the smoothest transition to preschool possible, but now let’s talk about your feelings of anxiety. It is imperative to assess your own feelings about the separation from your child. All parents experience some sadness because their little baby is growing up. But sometimes a parent’s anxiety can make the separation more difficult for the child. Try to become mindful of your feelings and focus on the positives of the experience. Trust your child’s teacher and the environment you have chosen for her first school experience.
Your child will have grown a great deal by the end of his preschool years. He will be able to put his jacket on by himself, share a toy with a friend and tell you when he is angry. The pre-school experience will enhance his ability to function independently, to get along with others and to assert his wishes. He will have gained a life-long love for learning, what a gift! These skills are the basic ingredients of living a successful and happy life!
Wallace, Meri, LCSW. Psychology Today How to Raise a Happy, Cooperative Child, Parenting Strategies for All Ages, September 10, 2012
McClure, Robin, Child Care expert. Parenting magazine Back To School: Pre-School Prep Helps Calm School or Daycare Jitters, 2014.
Fox, Isadora. Cohen, llisa. Debrovner, Diane. Parenting Magazine First Day Jitters: Getting Kids Excited to Start Preschool. 2008 Meredith Corporation