Going to school is a big transition in life – and sometimes more so for the parent than the child. Worrying about whether your child can adapt, make new friends, and enjoy lessons can be stressful. And if your fears come to pass and you end up with an unhappy child on your hands, it can be hard to accept that their first day at school was less than ideal – we all want this to be a joyful experience.
To find out how to remain calm and help your child cope better with first day jitters, we spoke to Learning Vision’s in-house curriculum specialist, Jaclyn Smith, who has a Bachelor’s of Science in Early Childhood Care and more than 10 years’ experience working with children between 3 months to 6 years old. We picked Jaclyn’s brain on ways to encourage positive emotions toward school, dealing with separation anxiety, and more:
Hi, Jaclyn! First off, what emotions (negative and positive) will little ones normally experience on their first day of pre-school?
Excitement, anticipation and anxiety are some common emotions experienced by both children and their parents. Feeling anxious usually stems from fear or doubt, and not knowing what to expect. As parents, it’s important to acknowledge that these emotions are normal and convey this to your child. Parents should prepare themselves away from their child first so they can focus on helping them manage their emotions. A parent’s anxiety can easily be transferred to the child.
How can parents prevent their children from feeling negative emotions on the first day?
The key is to stay calm, stay creative and stay confident. This will manifest in different methods for each family. Just make sure you take a well-rounded approach and prepare them physically, mentally and emotionally.
Transitions certainly aren’t easy. What are some practical steps we can take to foster more positive emotions?
There are lots of ways you can talk to your child about school in an affirming manner:
- Find time to speak with your child about school in a calm environment. Use stories, puppets and toys to help bring up the topic for discussion.
- Engage him/her in the process of getting ready for school, such as choosing a school bag and drawing a picture for their new friends and teacher.
- Have your child identify an item that will bring him/her comfort from home to act as a “safety blanket”. A family photograph or a favourite toy or book will do wonders.
- Share the possible happenings of the first day at preschool with your child, such as what happens in the morning, the journey to school, the goodbye process, school activities, and the pick-up.
- Counting down to the day and making it something to look forward to.
When the first day of school comes around, what is the best strategy for getting them settled in?
First and foremost, establish a goodbye ritual. It requires patience and commitment to an agreed upon course of action. Keep it short and sweet. It is more confusing for the child when parents choose to linger. So don’t beat yourself up if your child cries when you leave. Children thrive on routines and rituals, so consistency is key. If you choose to remain in the school to observe your child, exercise discipline and remain out of sight. It’s painful for a child to be left in a situation where they’re aware that their parents are nearby but not close. This “hide and seek” approach to saying goodbye also won’t help in the separation anxiety healing process.
How long would it normally take for a toddler to adapt to preschool (in terms of routine, location, caretakers etc)?
Adapting to school differs from child to child. Generally, it takes about a few weeks before children are adjusted to the new school schedule. For children whose school attendance is disrupted, it may take a little longer.
Which is the most difficult part of the day for preschoolers?
Most of the time, children find it difficult when saying their goodbyes in the morning, especially if they have separation anxiety. Naptimes may also be difficult for some children, as lesser activities occur during this period and children may feel homesick. Nonetheless, preschools are usually very accommodating when supporting children during this period of time.
On the brighter side of things now. In your experience, what do children usually love about preschool that we can tell them about?
Children usually have a great time in preschool when strong positive relationships are established. They often tell me that they enjoy the company of their friends, the caring and loving teachers, and the fun and engaging activities.
That sounds encouraging! How can we as parents do our part to ensure that our kids continue to love preschool?
Being engaged and interested in the children’s happenings in school is a good approach. It’s always helpful when children observe and notice a good relationship shared between their parents and teachers. Here are some ways you can be a positive influence at home:
- Make sure your child has a good rest the night before the first day of school.
- Ensure that pick-up at the end of the school day is timely.
- Praise your child for doing well in school.
- Share with your child about what to look forward to the next day if the teacher sends lesson plans in advance.
Thanks, Jaclyn! Great advice.
Learning Vision, various locations. Visit them at the Rise & Shine Expo, Suntec Singapore Level 4 (Hall 401-404), 1 Raffles Boulevard, Singapore 039593. Opens 11am-8pm daily. To make an appointment to view a school nearest to you, click here.
This post is sponsored by Learning Vision.