It’s always difficult to say goodbye to your little one on the first day of school. But it’s time to wipe your tears of grief (or relief!) as your toddler is about to begin school and foster new relationships, some of which will last a lifetime. They’re about to acquire and master skills, absorb knowledge and establish social skills wherein their interactions have more depth and thoughtfulness. As parents of preschoolers, we find ourselves at that end of answering the unending stream of questions and undergoing separation anxiety.
You might find your child going through traits/symptoms such as becoming increasingly clingy, crying at drop-offs and declining from entering the school ever again! These are very normal and almost every child faces it. The big question remains on how do we as parents help our children to cope with anxiety at school?
1. The earlier, the better: When you introduce your child to their soon to be new teachers and school, there’s a high possibility of the children being more comfortable with the environment on the first day of school. Showing children where they will eat or play can help to ease away their discomfort.
2. Trust: The ‘disappearing act’ may not be the best trick because the little ones need to be able to trust their most significant grown up. Separation from their protector can seem daunting and make them anxious. Hence, it’s wise to tell them that you will be leaving and coming back. According to child psychologist, Dr Jillian Roberts, “Over time when you give in, you make the anxiety bigger. When you and your child say ‘goodbye’, give a big hug, tell your child you love them, reassure your child, you will pick them up on time, and then leave without fanfare.” Resist lingering too long around the doorway or sneaking back to see how things are going.
3. Confidence: As a parent, it’s important for you to maintain a stance of calm confidence. Your child is very sensitive to your non-verbal cues and has a heightened focus on your tone and body language.
4. Painting a mental picture: Telling your child about the fun they’re about to experience in their classroom is a way to get them to be excited. Paint a mental picture of the things they might do, such as painting, gym, dancing, etc. Which evokes a sense of happiness in them. Never underestimate the power of visualization!
5. Deep breathing: At 2.5 years of age, a child can breathe in and out. Teach your child to take 3 deep breaths and breathe out the butterflies in their stomach that have been hiding there! This process will make them feel safe and secure. Tell them you saw their worries and the butterflies within and remind them how brave they are!
6. Follow up: The teachers will be able to provide you with information regarding characteristics or their hidden talents. Also share information about your child that will enable the teacher to provide the care that is reasonably consistent with yours. Therefore, keep in touch and updated about your child with the teachers who instill belief in them.
7. Routines: The routines could refer to bed time where the child gets the maximum rest and is able to wake up at the ‘usual’ time of the school. As parents, we need to be consistent on doing the same thing when we drop off our children every day, this way they will be able to trust the routine.
8. Goodbye Ritual: Rituals are reassuring, especially during stressful times. Plan a special way to say goodbye. Give the child little choices that help them feel control over what is happening. Hence, the ritual could be a wave through the window, or a simple hug or kiss.
9. Acceptance: If you or your child is feeling upset about the separation, reassure yourself that you have taken all the required steps to place your child in a safe, nurturing and stimulating setting. Telling children that they are too big to cry or that they are making a fuss over “nothing” only aggravates their fears and fails to help them understand their true feelings. Saying, “I know you are feeling sad. I will miss you too,” is more helpful.
10. Objects from home: Young children often use an object from home (such as a favourite teddy or blanket) to comfort themselves. Other children prefer to put a family photo or a parent’s familiar scarf or glove in their pocket or backpack. Eventually, the need for these “cozies” or transition objects diminishes.
Monday morning meltdowns are difficult to be avoided, but with the above strategies it will make dropping off easier for the children and parents. The strategies aim at making the transformation for parents an easier and less overwhelming in the preschool land.