This post is a follow up to How to work with your child’s preschool for a gentle transition – Part 1, which was posted earlier this week. This feature was originally published in Fall 2015 edition of The Local Biz Magazine.
Step 4: Build relationships with other parents.
There are many benefits to knowing another parent at your preschool. They’re familiar with preschool rules, opening hours and may even be able to help out by picking up your child in an emergency. Familiar relationships with another family is not only good for your child, but for you too. “Parents are able to help share tips for helping children transition”, says Maria. Most are more than willing to share their advice after experiencing similar struggles firsthand. If your schedule allows, make the time to attend organized preschool events that encourage parent interaction. If scheduled time off is not possible, spend a little extra time at pick up and drop off times to be friendly with other parents. Repeat, positive interaction with another family can help your child to overcome any shyness or discomfort in the new environment. Be open to invitations for play dates or even organize one yourself. “If you develop a friendship with another parent, it can help to meet up with their child outside of the classroom to build familiarity with your child,” says Maria. Opportunities to interact outside the preschool environment can build trust between your child and their classmate, easing transition challenges at preschool. Encourage other children to help. Having good relationships is important for adjusting to a new environment and can help an uncomfortable child feel at home. “A friendly child in the class can make all the difference for a child that’s struggling to find their place in a new environment,” says Maria. Parents can help their child to develop friendships with other children by helping them practice classmate’s names and encouraging them to say hello and goodbye to classmates at the end of every day. Developing social skills takes time and practice. Families can help children learn by encouraging interaction outside of preschool in group and sport activities. Bring something from home. Bring a familiar blanket or teddy bear to keep at the centre and keep any anxiety at bay. “These small items can make a big difference,” Maria says. “As part of the Emergent Curriculum program, we will display photos of each preschooler’s family on our walls. We find that this can help children to feel more comfortable while in our care.” “As parents, we are limited to the number of items we can leave with our child at preschool. Something that worked for my son was applying a little of my perfume on his blanket every Sunday before he went back to preschool. He would be reminded of me during nap times when he’d miss me most,” says Esperanza. Check with your preschool about what you can bring from home as there are rules that affect licensing.
Step 5: Start support in the home.
It can be frustrating for prepared parents to examine their own techniques at home, but there are ways to support children through the change. Transitions are temporary, so being open and flexible is key. “Children can find it hard to readjust to a preschool routine after weekends, or if a child is attending part time, after any break from their preschool routine,” says Maria. Incorporating a similar meal and nap routine in the home can help ease the transition from weekend to weekday. Be observant and take clues from what you find in the preschool. Sometimes it can be as easy as incorporating similar learning materials or furniture in your home, or as Esperanza experienced, incorporating similar rules. “After every meal, my son was taught to scrape the food off his plate before leaving the table. I hadn’t realized this at home and was frustrated with him for dirtying his high chair. How frustrating this must have been for him to learn one way at preschool and another at home. After talking this over with staff, I learned that this was part of their routine and have now incorporated it into our mealtime routine. That’s one less struggle to worry about for me and one less frustration for my son.”
Step 6: Throw away any timelines.
While transitions are often temporary, it’s best to avoid holding any expectations for how and when your child will adapt. Maria says, “Depending on the age of the child, needs, and their resiliency, it really does vary. Some children adapt within the first couple of days to the routines, others could take up to a month. A child’s nature plays a huge part in how they adapt.” There are likely to be days that feel harder than most for both parties, but it’s important to know that good preschools are patient with children adjusting to the change. “We give each child space to work it out,” says Maria.
Step 7: Prioritize quality time to reconnect.
Many parents will experience a strong emotional reaction from their child even when all food and sleep requirements are met. While it can be confusing, often what a child is craving is quality time with their family. In the early days at preschool, time spent apart from parents can feel long. Connecting with them through quality time at the start and end of every day is an effective strategy for easing your child into their day. “What I hadn’t realized going back to work was just how much my son wanted to reconnect with me after a long day at preschool,” says Esperanza. “I spent so much time having meals and bedtimes organized that I missed what my son really needed, which was the one-on-one time together that we had before our routines changed.” Talking to your child about how they felt during their day can help them to understand their emotions and help you to guide their coping strategies. This becomes even more important if you notice that your child is upset or afraid. Maria says, “If a child is upset being at preschool, a parent should acknowledge that feeling and talk about what upsets them, empathize and tell them that they understand they are feeling scared.” Talking through emotions can help bring sense to what a child is feeling and may even uncover the source of their anxieties.
Step 8: Trust your instincts.
Children are more resilient than we give them credit for and the majority adjust in their own time. If you begin to suspect something else may be interfering with your child’s adjustment to their new routine, talk it over with your preschool supervisor. Many are able to refer you to outside resources in the community that can support your family and answer questions beyond a preschool’s expertise.