7 Tips For a Calm and Happy Start To Preschool

By 06/02/2022 No Comments

Entering a new environment can be scary for preschoolers. Find out how to help tears and worry, for a happier first few weeks of school.

Starting preschool is an exciting and novel experience, although it can often come with lots of crying, worries and clinginess. So how do you celebrate this major milestone for your child and manage the worries and possible tears at the same time? 

Explain the routines of preschool 

Tell them about the routines and structures of the day, as it will be different to their experiences of being at home during the last 3-4 years. Talk about what you do when you arrive, when and how you will say goodbye and how you’ll always be there to pick them up at the end of the day. Talk about games they will play and the teachers and kids they will meet. Try not to make promises about things you can’t control, such as making new friends immediately. If their first days don’t match expectations, preschool may become uncertain and seem scary.

Become familiar with the preschool

Most preschools have orientation sessions either in person or during covid times perhaps via zoom. This is an opportunity for parents, teachers and children to meet each other and become familiar with the environment. Throughout the first week or so leading up to preschool, prepare them with conversations such as “ Next week you will be starting at preschool and you will be able to play with the new outdoor equipment”. Drive past your child’s new preschool and casually point it out.

Help them work their social muscles

Help your kids get moving, a lot of them have not been “in motion” for a long time. This is true not just physically, but also from a social aspect. Lockdown has taken a toll on kids who have missed out on social interactions, so it’s important we try to get our kids together face to face, in a safe way. Catch ups in person will help, walks, bike rides, visits to the park. Discussions and practice of certain social situations in the safety of the home environment can also be very helpful. For example talking through or acting out potential scenarios to help your kids problem solve and plan ahead. Seeing familiar faces in their class will increase your child’s comfort level.

Don’t pretend there aren’t worries

Don’t assume your children don’t have worries. Glossing over the issues will only exacerbate any concerns they may have. Whatever your child may be feeling when it comes to starting preschool, acknowledge this will feel like a significant transition, and it may take time to settle in. Help them name what they are feeling, perhaps it’s worried, scared, sad, and normalise the worries, we all have them. Your child will take cues from you, so be calm and confident that everything will go well.  Be a safe space for your kids to talk about how they’re feeling, and validate whatever those feelings may be. Helping them think of something they can do to problem solve their worries can be very helpful. For example reiterating you will always pick them up at a set time, pack something small but special in their bag so if they’re feeling sad they can reach for it, talk about what you might be doing during the day so they know you will be somewhere familiar and you will be coming back to pick them up.

Create a goodbye ritual 

Having a goodbye routine provides comfort and familiarity, so your child knows what’s to come. This could be anything you and your child decide on, such as a special hug or fun handshake.  Once you’ve said your goodbyes, it’s best to leave so that your child doesn’t become preoccupied by your presence. A long farewell scene might only serve to reinforce a child’s sense that preschool is a bad place. When you pick them up at the end of the day, reinforce the idea that you came back, just like you said you would reinforcing predictability into their day.

Bring a comforting object 

Have your child bring a little reminder of home to ease their separation anxiety. These reminders can come in any form, perhaps a small favourite doll or blankie, a beloved picture or book, a small object that fits in their pocket or backpack. These reminders may feel like incidental tokens, but they can provide a real sense of security to kids in unfamiliar environments.

Try not to make comparisons 

All children (and parents for that matter), transition to new environments differently. Try to avoid comparisons with older siblings or other children. Honour your own child’s process and the strategies they are using to make the transition to preschool as smooth as possible. Some will cry at every separation, others may never cry but act out the separation during play later in the day. Each behaviour is their way of working through their feelings.

And lastly, take care of yourself. Don’t minimise the importance of easing your own fears as well as your child’s. Have patience with yourself and your child. A complete and successful transition into preschool can take months, particularly if there are periods of absence due to other family commitments, illness and in this current time covid lockdowns and close contacts.

If you feel you could benefit from further strategies or you are unsure about how to best support yourself and child during this transition to preschool, don’t hesitate to reach out