The task of sending your three or four year olds to school for the first time ever is never easy – especially if the children have never spent time away from parents. Your children spending several hours in school not only means they would be away from you that long, but also that they are already taking their first steps towards the independence of being and doing things on their own.
Amidst the physical and emotional transition for the parents and the kids – a few simple steps can be followed in the lead-up to the big day to ease the tensions.
Visit the School with Your Child
Visiting the school with your children before they begin classes will give them a sense of the new environment. Also introduce the teachers and the children to each other, if possible. Observe what interests your children more while they are in the school premises. Pay attention to what toys they find interesting or what books they liked skimming. These little details would be useful while you are trying to convince your toddlers who might start the day crying, “I don’t want to go to school.”
Talk Them Into It
A few weeks before their first day at school, start talking to them about school and explain how fun it will be. For example, if your children liked dinosaur toys during the school visit, tell them there will be many dinosaurs at school and that they get to name the dinosaurs too, “What would you like to call the biggest dinosaur?” This way, you are actually stimulating their curiosity thereby making it clear that school is a place to have more fun.
Change the Focus
It’s not a good idea to wake up children in the morning saying, “It’s time to get ready for school.” They might want to sleep more or even fake sleeping after hearing you. Instead, adjust their bed time routine so they get up early in the morning without you having to interfere with their sleep. Gently keep their bedroom door open several minutes before their wake up time to see if that helps the waking up process.
Be Punctual When Picking Them Up
Children remember the time you weren’t there to pick them up, so coming back at the same time everyday establishes a positive reinforcement of trust. They may not realize the actual time you come to pick up but from the pattern of activities at school, they would intuitively know when it was time to expect you.
Respect Their Anxiety
Many parents often wonder why, although the school was nice and the teachers were caring, their child was still crying every day. Finding answers to this question is an important learning exercise for parents. Over a span of their initial few weeks, observe you children’s progress. If children are crying only for a few minutes while dropping off in the morning, you really have nothing to worry about. If they cry occasionally, it might be because they think about you in between activities or sometimes, some children start crying when they see some other child in their class crying.
If children cry most of the time in the first week or two (sometimes a little more), it’s likely because of separation anxiety. But if they continue to cry all the time for weeks at length, it’s important that take steps to determine what’s really bothering them. Try to find patterns of what triggers the bad mood so you can find workarounds to make things better.
For example – Is there any teacher the children are comfortable with such that the crying is less when that teacher is around? Are there any aggressive children at school? Are they scared of something or someone at school?
If your children can talk simple sentences, ask them questions while they are in a good mood. If you ask “Who did you play with at school?” they may not answer. Instead ask a more closed question, “Did you play with John or Amelia today?” or “Did you have fun playing in the water table? It was nice and cool, wasn’t it?”
Talk to the teachers and see their recommendations. Some children may take longer to adjust to a new environment while some will be fine within a few hours. It depends on multiple factors ranging from the way they perceive the world to the relationship they have with their parents and the level of attention they’ve received until then. It’s important to respect their anxiety and find ways to ease their transition.