How to Cope with Common Preschool Transition Situations
Mommy, don't go! Some children -- often those who are more cautious and slow to warm up to new situations -- have a hard time with separation. The adjustment is sometimes more difficult for children who go to preschool two or three days a week instead of five days, since saying good-bye is not a daily ritual. There's no secret to this one. You just have to hang in there. If you are consistent, supportive, and positive, your child will eventually adjust. Build extra time into your morning routine so you can spend a few minutes at school to help him get engaged as opposed to rushing off.
Can't I stay home today? You can't blame a child for thinking, "You're so fun to be with. I love my toys. The house is so cozy. Why go to school?" If your child protests going to school, validate his feelings and help him move on: "I know it's hard to leave home. But it's a school day, and it's time to go." Here are some ideas to get your child from home to school.
- Mention a favorite toy or an activity to help remind her of the fun she has at school: "Do you want to play with the water table or the puppets today at school?"
- Set a kitchen timer to give your child a visual reminder of how much longer he can play before it's time to get dressed.
- Start an activity with your child that you finish later when she comes home, like reading a few pages of a book or starting to draw a picture together. This creates a tangible connection between "now" and "later" and gives her something to look forward to.
- If getting out the door is tough, blow bubbles as you walk to the car, and have your child "catch" them as he makes his way down the driveway.
Where did my big girl go? Children often regress as they transition to preschool. You might see more clingy behavior, potty accidents, thumb sucking, pacifier requests, or even nighttime wake-ups. This is because kids are working hard at school to cope with separation, follow the rules, share, and get along with peers. When they are home, they can let go a little and want to feel nurtured. Go ahead and baby your child if she needs it. This period is likely to pass more quickly if you're patient and supportive.
Daddy, I don't like school. Toddlers have trouble articulating their thoughts and feelings, so when they say "I don't like school," it can mean many things: I had a bad day; I don't know how to ask other kids how to play; I miss you. Or it could mean something else entirely -- maybe he really doesn't like the program. Sit down with your child's teacher, share what your child has told you, and ask how things have been going. If there are indeed challenges, brainstorm together how to make the school experience a more positive one.
As your child sets out for her first day of preschool, remember that ups and down are normal. But with time, she will not just adapt but will thrive, making friends and delighting in new discoveries. Before you know it, the problem won't be crying when you drop her off, it will be crying when you pick her up -- because she's having so much fun and she doesn't want to leave.
Originally published in the August 2008 issue of American Baby magazine.