If you are like most Bay Area parents, you have researched your options when it comes to preschools and schools. You have chosen a program that fits your lifestyle values, the family schedule and seems like a great fit for your child’s personality. Friends and family have reassured your choices and you are optimistic about your child’s ability to adapt to inherent changes.
If you are caught by surprise with your child’s behavior when going back to or starting school, join the club of parents around the world are baffled by the cute and not-so-cute things that children do when they are facing unexpected change. While the change is inevitable, here are some tips for dealing with the disruptions and eruptions that may help you stay in sync with your child, your parenting values and the flow of change.
1. While setting the bar high, keep the big picture in mind.
We all want our children to have opportunities and hopefully enjoy their daily activities. Sometimes we can get carried away in having our kids “measure up “ to other kids at a young age. Sometimes we get carried away when there are so many great activities, groups and lessons for our kids. Keep in mind that kids develop at their own rates. All kids need down time to explore, process and assimilate information and express emotions. Does your child have enough unstructured play time everyday? Try to build in some unstructured family time if you don’t already have that.
2. Let your child share their experience when they are ready -- don’t grill them.
As parents and caregivers, we are curious about what happens when we are away from our child. A habit can form of picking up the child and immediately request they tell us about the day. When I ask a child, “What happened today?” or “What did you learn?”, I mostly get “I don’t know…nothing”. Instead of asking about your child’s day in a way that an adult might be able to respond to, greet them let them know with your actions that nothing has changed since they last saw you. Perhaps even share a bit about your day. Maybe talk about ideas for the after school plan and then give them some free air space, leaving time for your child to open up at their own rate.
3. Expect some chaos to ensue: tears, tantrums, sleep schedule delays -- prepare for the worst.
When kids are thrown into a new routine with new people, new toys and a new environment, they might feel challenged. We all communicate through our behavior, and this is even more true for kids under five. If your child unexpectedly thrashes, screams and throws their shoes when you answer your phone or pick up another child, remember they are going through a lot of changes. Whatever your disciplinary style is, take into account that it takes time for children to adjust. They are likely tired and overwhelmed even if Mary Poppins turns out to be their teacher.
4. Commiserate with your child and the difficulty of being around new people, new activities, strange places and constant stimulation.
If your child is having a hard time and is expressing it behaviorally or verbally, acknowledge that what they are going through is tough. Help them work through the changes by validating difficult feelings and fear they may be experiencing. Stay away from reassuring them. Contrary to popular belief, it often backfires and does not help your child to feel safer or understood. It rather complicates those feelings.
5. Inform your child of some of the changes, and prepare them as much as possible.
As changes occur, continue to remind your child of what to expect. Acknowledge it is difficult and remind them of the people they can go to for help. Tell them who is going to drop them off or pick them up and answer their questions as they emerge.
Adjusting to preschool or school is one of those times when our imagination can get ahead of us and set both parents and kids up for disappointment. While it may certainly take some time for parents and kids to adjust, it is possible to go with the flow by expecting difficulty, keeping the big picture in mind and building in down-time.
Remember this whole playgroup and school thing is about raising healthy children. Part of creating health is coping with challenge and change from an honest, realistic and supportive place.
I hope these tips will help you ease the pressure as parents. Always remember that parents set the pace. This is a great opportunity to be more in sync with your child and support their growth in a way that will support them far beyond their younger years.
Find out more about Esther Krohner here.