It's approaching fall, which means my family is hitting another milestone...preschool. Just the thought of sending my precious little one off to preschool is enough to make the waterworks begin. To try and ease the transition, I've gathered a dozen helpful tips to pass along that I have been given through various friends/moms, books, and online research that I have pulled. Read ‘em, and hopefully don’t weep.
Read Books About School. An easy way to get the transition conversation started is reading your children books about preschool and kindergarten in the weeks before they begin. I love The Night Before Preschool. Also, Pete The Cat: Rocking In My School Shoes. The day after reading this book, I let Camden choose new shoes for school. You can also scoop up books that show your kids’ favorite characters making their way to the classroom. Fav picks: Bubble Guppies Time For School, Peppa Pig And The Busy Day At School, Elmo Goes To School, Curious George’s First Day Of School, Daniel Tiger Goes To School, Clifford’s First Day Of School, The Berenstain Bears Go To School, and the like.
Get Them Excited About School Gear: Let your kid pick out a few new pieces of clothing, a backpack, lunchbox, and bento box to put into his or her lunchbox to get them excited about the perks of heading to school. Camden picked out his dinosaur backpack for this school year. Check out my post later this week that features my must have gear!
Get Them Excited About School Grub: The night before the big day, get your child involved in picking their choice of healthy fruits and veggies, sandwich supplies, drink, and snack. Camden LOVES prepping and cooking foods with me. (We have an entire #CookingWithCamden series you can find on my instagram here and on my youtube page here.) Let them know that they get to gobble down the yummy stuff the next day at school. When you’re packing their first-day lunch, you could even sneak a note inside. A simple “I Love You” or cute drawing if they can't read may make them smile.
Let Them Get Comfy With Their New Stuff: If your preschooler will be sleeping on a mat for the first time (PS: I like this version by Olive Kids), try to buy the mat a few weeks early and set it up in the living room for fun snuggle sessions and to get them excited about their new sleepy time area. Same goes for new backpacks and shoes. Try to have your kids try the gear on before the big first day, so they can get comfortable wearing the items.
Visit The School Ahead Of Time: If your preschool allows visits with your child before the school year starts, take them up on it! It’s a great way for kids to get acquainted with the environment and teachers with mom and dad nearby before they are there all alone.
Curb The “School” Talk If Needed: If you notice your child getting anxious or rebellious when you mention the idea of “school,” try to nix the word altogether, and instead refer to the place as its proper name (ex: Wagon Wheel) and the teachers as their first names (“let’s go visit your new friend Susan, she’s so nice”). This might help the transition seem like less of a big deal and the new space seem more like a fun play center.
The Drop-Off: This is definately the hardest part for me! Confidence is key. It’s important to say goodbye (don’t sneak out of the room) and actually leave. Don’t ask “Are you okay if mom leaves now?” It will not be ok with them. Instead, walk away confidently even if your child is crying—don’t linger, come back, or keep turning around, as that will make them feel like they do actually have something to be scared of, as they’ll sense a lack of confidence. It’ll also reinforce that crying gets you to come back. Also, keep your promises. If you say you will be back right after recess/snack, be there. Remember that separation anxiety is a natural part of development, how parents respond to it is vital in order for kids to make healthy transitions and develop trust with parents and teachers. I'm a sucker for the turnaround, so I have to constantly remind myself of this!
Create A Drop-Off Ritual: Think of a special send-off between you and your child, like a special handshake, a kiss blown in their hand (especially great if you have read The Kissing Hand), a short finger play, or a goodbye from all of you senses. Let your child take a small transitional object to school. Plan something you can give him out of your pocket or off your body to leave with him if he is struggling, a small photo, or a little hair tie.
Practice Self Care: After you drop your child off, try to let the guilt go and do something for yourself, such as a stroll, a phone call to a friend, or a cry in the car. Your child will stop crying a lot sooner than you think. Have faith in your kid’s inner strength and positive coping techniques that you have so awesomely helped develop ;)
Expect Regression. Your child might whine, cry, have bathroom accidents, or be extremely clingy while they make this big transition. They need more nurture and reassurance, so don’t punish them for using a baby voice at this time, but instead give extra cuddle time. And when they express negative feelings, make sure you don’t put words in her mouth. Don’t say, “I know you hate school.” Reflect instead: “I hear you saying you feel scared/sad/mad?..the teacher and I are here to help.” Also, remind your child that she has fought her fear before and felt brave. Say something like, “Remember how afraid you were of swimming? Now you love it!”
Discussing Their School Day: To encourage your kids to open up and give some school day details, grab their favorite dolls and superheroes and play like they’re at school, recreating moments from the day. At dinner, try to get your kids to talk about the best and worst parts of their day, and you can do the same with your work day. You little ones need to feel validated. It’s very important to show them we care by validating even their sadness, confusion, and frustration (thank you Inside Out for the reminder! and if you haven't seen that movie yet, grab your little one and GO!) I had a child psychologist tell me that a great way to do this is by making sure you (the parent) are focused (looking at their eyes and putting away all electronics), hearing their words, and repeating them back in a simple way. If they see you heard them and you didn’t get details wrong, then you ask, ‘Is there anything else you want to share about that?’ before you make any comments. I know this is harder for us parents with toddlers who haven't quite gotten the full scope of verbal communication down. But our little ones are sponges and absorb everything, so setting the communication up this way now will help in their communication skills and development. Next, you can say something along the lines of, ‘What do you think would make you feel better?’ Most of the time they have a much easier and better solution than we parents could ever imagine. Other times the solution involves something totally unrealistic (my child always says "pool" or "tv" which isn't always the best solution!) If the solution is doable, I ask how I can help. If it isn’t, I acknowledge why watching TV all day might not be the best option. May the force be with you, mamas!