Here in DC, we have free universal preschool (I know-we are SO lucky). This basically means that almost every 3-year-old and 4-year-old in the city is going to be meeting their teachers and going to their new classrooms for the first time this week. While the fact that it is free is unique, I know that the transition aspect is not. Little ones all around the country are dressed up as big boys and girls and are walking into a classroom for the first time ever. Even though we as parents are incredibly proud, it is often nerve-wracking to watch your child grow up and move into this new realm in their lives. If your child has a hard time with transitions, this particular one can be downright devastating for parents. The following article has some practical tips to make this go more smoothly for your young one (and for you Mom and Dad!). Even though this article is written specifically for the preschool set, these techniques can be utilized for older children as well. http://www.psychologytoday.com/collections/201209/back-school/ten-tips-helping-your-child-pre-school-jitters
Here are some of my favorite tips:
-Reassure your child that this is a positive, fun, and-most importantly-safe place to be. If you tell your child that they can come home if they need to or they don't have to be at preschool if they don't want to, they will have a harder (and probably much longer) transition period. While it is important for you to validate their feelings of sadness, making it seem as if preschool is optional is actually undermining the teacher, the school, and the transition. Let them know that this is a great place to be, explain why, and let them know when you will be back to pick them up.
-Establish a goodbye routine at school. This is analogous to the bedtime routine that you have at home. Try to say goodbye in the same way every time. This can include something fun and unique like a secret handshake or a quick song. Eventually your child will understand that once this routine is done, it is time to get started at school. Kids at this age thrive when their world is consistent and predictable (this is true for older kids as well). If you change the way that you say goodbye every time, they will notice the difference and wonder why. There may not be a reason, but your child may think there is. Keeping it consistent will reduce doubts and fears.
-Contact the teacher/school soon after you leave. This one is so important! I am a former nursery school teacher and I wish some of my parents would have done this. I remember one child who cried and cried when his Mom dropped him off. She was significantly inconsistent in her dropping-off behavior. Sometimes she was strong and able to just say goodbye. Other times, she would spend quite a while at the preschool reassuring him and trying to make him feel better. Occasionally, she would come back 15 minutes after dropping him off and peek in the door to see if he was doing OK! I wasn't a parent then, but I am now and can appreciate how difficult this was for her. I don't blame her one bit for struggling with drop-off. But the inconsistency was not helping. This child was ALWAYS fine within three minutes of Mom dropping him off. He was a really amazingly sweet and engaging child who made friends quickly and forgot how upset he was as soon as he picked up a toy. If Mom had called us instead of popping in, she would have known this and been able to relax. Instead, she fretted for the next 4 hours wondering if her poor sweet baby was OK. Save yourself from having to guess-call the teacher. You are not bothering him or her. They would much rather reassure briefly over the phone or in an email than have you come back and have the child become upset when you leave again. And then allow yourself to relax and realize that your child is in good hands.
There you have it-sorry so short and sweet. I hope that you enjoy this article with its useful tips. Good luck to all of the parents dropping their kids off at preschool-especially if it is the first time. It can be (will be) hard, but before you know it, this will become the new normal and your child will run off to join his or her friends before you have a chance to say goodbye (that might be the hardest part of all!). As always, comment below, tweet me @fpschDrSweeney, or contact me directly. Good luck!