Do you ever wonder how your child will cope when he starts preschool?
If he will be able to follow instructions, make friends and speak up with he needs help?
Are you worried if he will settle down quickly when he cries during the early days of preschool, and wonder if there is anything you can do to minimize that?
If your answer to any of the questions above is yes, then you might want to take a look at some of the issues discussed in this article…..
The preschool years are amongst the most crucial times in a person’s life. This is when his learning capacity increases significantly and his learning is so spontaneous and effortless. This rapid growth doesn’t only happen to their physical state but it also affects their intellectual, language, emotional, social and character development. As such, it is important that we prepare our children well before they get to preschool so that when they do step into one, they will hit the ground running. Here are three main themes that we need to address:
- Separation Anxiety
Separation anxiety is very real and according to some childhood anxiety experts, is seen as the equivalent of depression in adults. This happens when a child is separated from his primary caregiver whom he is attached to. Contrary to what we may have been told by our parents (and grandparents) a strong attachment between a child and his primary caregiver especially during the early years, is vital to all the different aspects of his development.
This is because a child who has a secure attachment to someone is often a very happy, calm and contented child and this is a really good platform for him to develop a good self-image about himself, which translates to his ability to relate to others, to communicate well, to form trusting relationships with others, to be resilient; and it also puts him in an optimal condition to learn as much as he can during his preschool years.
As such, if you want your child to deal with separation anxiety, to settle in quickly into a new environment and to do well in preschool (or any other learning environment), you will need to start nurturing this attachment with your child. Foster a strong bond and trusting relationship with your child so that he will feel comfortable coming to you with anything that may be bothering him and his trust will also put you in a good position to help him deal with his insecurities when he is anxious.
A good place to start would be to offer assurance when he is in distress. I know this is somewhat counter-intuitive as I was brought up thinking that when children are ‘clingy’, we need to make sure they don’t become overly dependent on us for emotional support or they will never learn to self-sooth.
However, child developmental psychology tells us that children are born to seek out and bond with significant adults in his environment because it is a survival instinct and if they find themselves in a warm and nurturing environment with adults who are sensitive to their needs, they develop a positive self-image that becomes the foundation which enables them to learn to be independent and self-sufficient.
In order to foster a strong attachment with your child, here are things you can do:
- Reassure him when he is distressed,
- Prepare him for potentially stressful situations (like going someplace new, being with someone that he’s unfamiliar with, going to a new preschool) by talking to him about it and reading relevant books about starting pre-school,
- Helping him understand that all these feelings and emotions are ok, that you often feel it too and help them to come up with ways that will help them feel better or help them deal with it.
And here are some things you really should try to avoid:
- Push him away when he is upset
- Tell him to ‘be strong’ (I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand what that is),
- Assume that he will ‘grow out of it’ (he won’t, it gets carried forward and it will affect the way he deals with anxiety and relationships and future challenges).
We all want our children to be self-confident because research shows that children who are self-confident are more likely to problem-solve and to take calculated risks. These are all the necessary ingredients for being creative thinkers and for being successful in school and life. In contrast, children who lack self-confidence tend to have large amounts of self-doubt.
These children tend to retract into their own comfort zones, tend to get unsettled easily when they come across new experiences, are not as resilient, are less likely to problem-solve and take risks and tend to seek out adult’s approval all the time for everything that they do.
These children lack the ability to make decisions and to be accountable for them and though they may be young now and we may not need them to make lots of huge decisions just yet, but how young children feel about themselves during these formative years tends to form the foundation for their lifelong attempt to define themselves and to make important life decisions.
So how can we teach our children to develop self-confidence? Unfortunately there are no short cuts to this. We need to give them lots of opportunities to do things on their own, in other words, to be independent. Once they develop independence and they learn that they can depend on themselves to get simple things done without being totally reliant on an adult’s help, they will start to feel a sense of achievement, and in time, that automatically translates to self-confidence. Here are some things we can do to help our children develop independence:
- Look out for readiness for trying to do things on their own (they will want to mimic you and try to do it on their own, this is hard to miss),
- Provide them with the skills (and almost always, the right tools are required as well….child-sized ones) so that children can attempt to master these skills (e.g. self-feeding, toileting, helping out with housework etc),
- Make these opportunities available to them to practice whenever they want to, so that they will feel a sense of purpose and fulfillment in helping out.
Here are a few things that we should try to avoid:
- Assume that they are too small to do anything (and not let them try),
- Do everything for them (and think that they will get other opportunities to develop independence later on in life…..huge mistake!),
- Instill fear by telling them that if they tried this and that, they will hurt themselves, break something, make a mess etc.
- Building blocks for a smooth transition
To ensure that your child transitions smoothly into pre-school life, it will help if we take some time off to consider some of the changes that your child will have to make, to preempt some of his challenges and to prepare for them. Being prepared will significantly minimize anxiety and stress for both your child and you. As such, here are a few things you really need to consider….
- Aligning schedules -when your child starts pre-school, his schedule will change even though he’s only gone for a few hours. It would be wise to try to align his schedule way in advance so that he gets used to waking up at the right time (and I’m sure that’s going to affect his bed time as well), having breakfast at the right time, getting into the routine of getting dressed and ready by a certain time. Once you have aligned his schedule, it will be one less thing to worry about when he starts preschool.
- Encourage him to be independent – remember that your child is moving from an environment where there is high adult-child ratio to an environment that is totally the opposite. Therefore, the more independent he is, the less he is dependent on an adult to help him around. You might want to start getting him used to drinking water frequently from his own bottle or feeding himself quickly or putting his belongings away after use.
- School visit – once you have decided on which preschool to send him to, it is wise to bring him there at least once (preferably twice) to check out the classroom and meet his prospective teacher. When you do this, it helps him to become familiar with the new environment that will become a part of his daily life.
- Ask for a staggered entry – some preschools that are sensitive to the child’s needs will have a staggered entry system where children start their first week of preschool with fewer hours or fewer days and then gradually increasing it over the second week before they get into the proper schedule on the third week. This is extremely helpful in helping young children settle quickly and it significantly reduces anxiety in them.
I will be publishing a new ebook entitled ‘A Parent’s Guide To Optimizing Your Preschooler’s Learning: Giving them a headstart in school and life’, which will be available on Amazon.com by next week. It will be made free for a limited time so do stay tuned for updates:)