This feature was originally published in Fall 2015 edition of The Local Biz Magazine. The editor, Wendy Chiavalon, has been following my blog since it first launched! Wendy invited me to write an article for her magazine and I was thrilled for having the opportunity. The final article was close to 2000 words, so it’s longer than my usual format here at The Motherhood Scene. To make the article easier to digest, I’ll be splitting my writing over two blog posts.
You’ve spent your summer preparing for preschool and now that it’s finally here, the change may not be as smooth as you planned for it to be. Transitioning is an unpredictable process that varies for every child. Here’s how you can work with your preschool to ease your family into the change. Ensuring that your child has a successful transition is on the mind of every parent this time of year. Despite the difficulties that a change in routine creates, many of us persevere for a multitude of reasons, and many of us may not have any other option once maternity leave is over. A common misconception is that transitions are a stage that children master and overcome. In reality, transitioning is a process that can take time and varies with each child. Transitioning behavior will likely reappear as family routines change with new jobs, working hours or the addition of new family members. Understanding how you can work with your preschool during this time can help your family have a smoother transition. When we think of preparing for preschool, families will apply a similar strategy – frantically throwing together all the bags, shoes, hats, wipes, sunscreen and labels on the checklist provided by your preschool. Ambitious types will ask ahead for the preschool routine and try to follow a similar feeding and naptime schedule. Getting your child to preschool their first day is an accomplishment! What’s not often discussed though is how to support your child beyond this moment as the transition challenges appear. Maria Teixeira, Supervisor at Little Orchard Brooklin, explains what she’s learned from families starting preschool over her 20 years of experience and how preschools can support families during this change.
Step 1: Realize that you are affected as much as your child.
Parents with children entering preschool are just as likely to also experience a transition of their own. They are hit twice as hard with emotions during this time. Parents are adjusting to being without their children every day. They may even feel increased pressure during this time from being so emotionally invested in how their child adjusts during this time. “Patience is key for all parties involved”, says Maria Teixeira, Supervisor at Little Orchard Daycare Brooklin. “Transitions take time and effort. Not only on the child care side, but also for the parents as well”. Transitions don’t have to be a negative experience for families. A change in routine can be an opportunity for parents to model positive coping strategies. Families can support one another in simple ways – acknowledging each other’s feelings, praising positive behavior, involving friends for support or seeking a physical outlet like team sports can all help with stress relief. Reducing the number of stressful activities in life is also another strategy that will help parents have the energy to support their child during this time. For some families, finding a maid to clean the bathrooms every week is sanitysaving. For others, eating out helps ease the tension when everyone is exhausted after a long day. No matter what the task, find what works for your family to relieve any stress during this period.
Step 2: Open lines of communication with staff.
Child care professionals are among the first to acknowledge the importance of parents developing a relationship with their staff too. While it may be difficult to find time to talk with preschool staff at the end of your day, there are options available. “A good centre will have daily contact with the parents either at the end or beginning of the day. We encourage parents to even call during nap times to speak to the staff”, says Maria. This two way communication is critical during this period. Information about your child’s frustrations, sleeping patterns, eating habits or teething pain can help both parents and staff to respond effectively to your child’s needs. “I always make a point of sharing information with staff if I know my son hasn’t had a good night’s rest. I know that by sharing this with them early in the day, they’ll know he needs extra cuddles. Having him cared for like this during the day leaves me feeling confident that he will be in a better place when I pick him up,” says Esperanza, mother of Mark, who is 2.
Step 3: Be conscious of your own anxieties.
Particularly for parents adjusting to a new preschool after a negative experience, your approach will play a big part in your child’s next experience. Being mindful of preconceptions that you bring from a previous experience and communicating these can help to avoid projecting any unfounded associations onto a new centre. Staff are aware of the trust it takes for parents to leave children in their care. “We realize how important our work is”, says Maria, “We understand how difficult it is to leave your children with someone new and we understand how scary this experience can be for children.” Sharing previous child care experiences with your new preschool can help staff to spot any sensitivities that you and your child may have, and empowers them to work with you and develop a positive experience. You may have provided this information on your preschool application form when your child was enrolled, but for many parents learning about your concerns is a gradual process. Share your concerns with staff early. “It’s your child, so call or talk as much as you need to feel comfortable. Staff may not always be available to talk at the moment of your call, but they will find time to follow up and speak with you,” says Maria.