My son started preschool 2’s last year, he had just turned 2 when school started so it was a bit of an adjustment. Some of my fellow mom friends decided to wait for the 3’s which is not surprising since I felt that at 2 my son was still quite young. Now at 3 I know of so many kids going in for the first time and have been asked, how do you transition from home to school? The tips below were very helpful last year and I plan to use them this year for we’ve had the kiddo all summer long so we do expect some separation anxiety. The only tip I personally modified was the time spent lingering in the classroom. The school we attend encourages us to stay as long as we need especially the first week even if it is the entire day. Although I cannot stay all day I have already warned work that on his first day of school, which is already a full scheduled day of work obligations for me, that my son is my priority and I will be late and stay until I feel he can manage. It is important he knows he can rely on my husband and I. Three still feels young to me and I remember being frighten of the first day of school when I was 6! Your child is starting kindergarten? My dear friend and supermom April highly recommended these tips. Happy First Day!
Start by reading stories about preschool. Choose books that include typical preschool activities, as well as those that deal with separation. Point to the pictures and ask your child how the different characters might be feeling. Don’t be surprised if she wants to read these books over and over. This is how children process new ideas and work through feelings.
Help your child picture what preschool will be like. Take turns playing the roles of Mommy, kid, and teacher. Act out saying good-bye to Mom and hello to the teacher. When you get tired of that scenario, add other activities, like snack time and finger painting.
Schedule a visit to the school. Seeing the classroom, meeting the teachers, and playing with the toys can make this transition easier. Familiarity helps children feel safe.
Answer your child’s questions, even if they’re difficult. It’s important to respond honestly, in language she can understand. (“Yes, I will leave you for a little while, but I will come back to get you at lunchtime.”)
There’s nothing like seeing your little one, practically tipping over in his towering backpack, striding into his “big-kid school.” But how can you minimize the stress? Here are some ideas for making the good-bye as good as it gets:
How to Cope with Common Preschool Transition Situations
Mommy, don’t go! Some children — often those who are more cautious and slow to warm up to new situations — have a hard time with separation. The adjustment is sometimes more difficult for children who go to preschool two or three days a week instead of five days, since saying good-bye is not a daily ritual. There’s no secret to this one. You just have to hang in there. If you are consistent, supportive, and positive, your child will eventually adjust. Build extra time into your morning routine so you can spend a few minutes at school to help him get engaged as opposed to rushing off.
Can’t I stay home today? You can’t blame a child for thinking, “You’re so fun to be with. I love my toys. The house is so cozy. Why go to school?” If your child protests going to school, validate his feelings and help him move on: “I know it’s hard to leave home. But it’s a school day, and it’s time to go.” Here are some ideas to get your child from home to school.
Daddy, I don’t like school. Toddlers have trouble articulating their thoughts and feelings, so when they say “I don’t like school,” it can mean many things: I had a bad day; I don’t know how to ask other kids how to play; I miss you. Or it could mean something else entirely — maybe he really doesn’t like the program. Sit down with your child’s teacher, share what your child has told you, and ask how things have been going. If there are indeed challenges, brainstorm together how to make the school experience a more positive one.
As your child sets out for her first day of preschool, remember that ups and down are normal. But with time, she will not just adapt but will thrive, making friends and delighting in new discoveries. Before you know it, the problem won’t be crying when you drop her off, it will be crying when you pick her up — because she’s having so much fun and she doesn’t want to leave.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.
Photo, Jason Lee