Helping Preschoolers Trade Summer for School
How does your child handle separation from you? Even though your preschooler may have enjoyed summer programs and done well away from you, don't automatically expect that the transition back to school will be easy. In fact, the younger the child, the more "transition" means "separation."
Your child's excitement about returning to school is also related to what his experience was last spring. Yes, the preschooler memory is notoriously fickle, but somehow, a distressing last year in school is never easily forgotten, whether you are 3 or 30. If she loved her teacher, you have a fighting chance that she'll at least be neutral. But if the relationship was not mutually appreciated, then you may have some preparation (if not repair) work to do.
Above all, prepare yourself for those preschool temper tantrums. Older preschoolers or pre-kindergarteners may be "too grown-up" for such obvious displays of distress and might show their worries through their bodies in upset tummies, trouble sleeping, or headaches.
Here are some tips that'll help ease that back-to-school anxiety:
Ten days before school starts, start shifting bedtimes and summer schedules to get ready for school. Do your shopping together if you can and get your child to think about the concrete details of going back to school: different clothes, food, etc. Talk about last year if it was pleasant, and arrange for time to socialize with school buddies if they have not been a part of the summer.
Physically visiting the building and classroom is a huge help for most kids, as it reduces the vast fear of the unknown. Most good programs provide some form of "open house" or welcoming ritual. Kids are reassured by seeing play spaces, cubbies, and new bathrooms.
The younger the child, the better they feel about being a little in love with their teacher. Make sure you introduce your child. Almost all the research on school adjustment and performance points to a strong parental involvement in the child's school life as a positive factor. You can help break the ice by telling the teacher how the summer went, how the child is really feeling about coming back, what she loves to do, who her friends are, and what worries, if any, she has about coming back.
Plan for everything to take twice as long the first day and get up early. Your anxiety may help you get things done, but it won't help your child, so try to relax. Listen to what your children are telling you about their worries. Don't shut them up with premature reassurance, because you are probably off the mark. What really worried my younger daughter was that the toilets might be locked.They need to know that you believe in them.
Step one is allowing your child to find her way. Let her examine her cubby, meet the teachers, and inch her way to a kid or two. Do not rush this, as the fall-out can be meltdown. Ask the teacher for help if it seems needed. Most good programs are happy to have you spend extra time there during the first days, because it helps the child (and occassionally the parent) cope with the separation. The second step comes when it is time for you to go. Short and sweet is the rule here. It works best if the child can finish with you first. My older daughter enjoyed pushing me out the door of the community nursery school to the giggles of her buddies. Repeated hugs and goodbyes initiated by the parent undermine the child's confidence because it makes them think: "Am I OK here without you? Then why are you kissing me so much?" This is the best time for a routine.
Help them well while they need you and then step aside. So don't stress about September, your child will adjust before you know it.
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