Sending your child to pre-school is a big transition for you as well as your child. You may be excited that they are going to school where they will learn and make new friends. You may also be a little apprehensive about them leaving you and being on their own. These emotions are totally normal. As you have these emotions, so does your child. It is a big step for a toddler to go to school, with so many new changes which they need to learn to adjust to.
Try to prepare your child about school before they start so things don’t come as a shock to the system. Here are a few tips on how you can prepare your child for the big step of going to school.
Here are some ideas that you can do in the weeks leading up to the beginning of school:
1. Pretend Play
Play “schools” with your child. Take turns acting as parent, teacher and child. Act out common routines your child would find at school, such as goodbye’s at the gate, snack time, lessons, playtime and nap time. Make it fun for your child so that they are reassured that school is a fun and exciting place.
2. Communicate and Answer Questions
If your child is excited about the prospect of school, they will probably be wanting to ask a million questions about it. Be open and patient to their questions. The more your child knows, the less anxious they will feel. If your child has any worries, listen to them. Even if they are big or small, your child’s worry can make a big difference to their experience of school. Your child might be worried about pick up time or what they are going to eat for snack. Let your child know that it is normal to have mixed emotions – happy, sad, excited or scared. Explain that starting something new can feel scary and that lots of people feel that way. It can be helpful to share a time when you started something new and how you felt. Maybe something like your first day of work? When you allow your child to share his/her worries, you can help them think through how to deal with them.
3. Read books about Pre-School
Young children are looking to make connections with characters in texts that are ‘just like them’ and follow the same kinds of daily routines. Children will particularly benefit from books that include familiar themes and experiences. There are some really great books that you can find about going to pre-school. Share some stories with your child and discuss the characters and how they may be feeling. You can then relate the book to your child and ask questions such as “do you think you will have a locker to put your books in like Ben does?” or “Look at what Ben has for snack, I hope you get yummy snacks like him”.
4. Practice skills needed at school
You can make everyday school skills fun. You can ask your child to practice putting their shoes on and then see “how fast you can do it”. You can also practice opening and closing the school bag. You can practice giving and sharing and anything else which you think might be relevant for your child and their new environment.
5. Visit the school with your child
Visit the school with your child and show them around the classrooms, the dining room and the play area. Let them play there for sometime so they have fun. You can also introduce them to their new teacher. Most pre-schools are very open to this and a visit like this can be beneficial in increasing your child’s comfort and confidence in their new setting.
6. Buy things for school together
It’s really fun if take your child shopping with you and you buy what they need for school together – a backpack, water bottle, snack box etc… Let your child choose what they want themselves. By doing this you are giving them a sense of control and you are emphasising the fact that they are “a big boy/girl” starting school.
The night before School:
• Answer any last minute questions your child might have.
• If your child gets to wear “home clothes”, let them choose them and lay them out ready for school the next day.
• Make sure your child goes to bed at a good time. The last thing you want is a tired, cranky toddler on their first day of school. Pick a “school night” bedtime and stick to the same time each night. This constant routine is very important for your little one.
The First day of school:
1. Make sure you and your child wake up with plenty of time before school. The last thing you want to do is rush to school on the first day. This will unsettle your child.
2. Go through the days schedule with your child – What time you will drop them, what time you will pick them up etc..
3. If your child is taking their own snack/lunch, then pack the box together. It will be nice for your child to have some favourite, familiar foods on their first day (no junk food though).
4. On the first day of school and possibly a few after that, if your child is struggling with settling and is obviously upset, then:
• Stay with them for sometime. Go to the classroom with your child and play with them for a little bit until they have calmed down and are comfortable.
• It can be very distressing as a parent to see your child upset so it is very important that you stay positive and enthusiastic in front of your child. Children are very good at picking up on reactions so remain upbeat.
• Don’t linger for too long. When you say goodbye, GO. Don’t say goodbye and then hang around so your child can see you. It will start the tears off again.
• If you hear your child crying after you have left, try hard to resist the urge to go back in and pick them up. It is understandable that your child is scared but if you run back in, it sends the message to your child that it is ok if your there and therefore this will prolong the settling in period. As soon as your child gets familiar with the routine of dropping and sweet goodbyes, they will gradually settle.
After all of the preparation, every child takes to school differently. Every parent hopes and prays that their child goes in happily or settles quickly. Some do. Others however take a while. Overcoming separation anxiety and adjusting to school can be extremely hard for some children and it will be a gradual process. Be patient with your child. Talk to them whenever you can and tell them how proud you are of them. Reassure them that everything will be fine, as at the end of the day, you know it will be 🙂