We’ve all heard those stories – kids screaming and bawling at the doors of pre-school, clinging to Mom or Dad for dear life, and adamantly refusing to take one step indoors – and we don’t wish to put our children through that pain.
Transitions can be tough for both you and your little one.
Understandably, you may have your concerns, and your child may have fears or worries that they’re unable to express. They may respond to the change in environment by asking you more questions, seeking the comfort of a familiar toy or blanket, or even by displaying regressive behaviours which they have outgrown including temper tantrums and thumb-sucking.
These responses are normal, and it is important for you, as an adult, to help your child feel secure and confident during the transition.
So here’s some advice for new parents who are unsure of what to do! Your child will manage best if you:
- Respond predictably and consistently to your child’s needs in order to develop a trusting relationship
- Engage your child in warm, supportive interactions
- Model positive social behaviour
Building on these three key ideas, we’ve put together a few tips you could use to (hopefully) make the change from home to school a little easier.
1. Prepare a routine and explain to your child what will happen in advance
Having a routine helps to remove any fear of uncertainty which your child may have. A routine may be in the form of a class schedule that you have received from your child’s school, or something that you plan to implement at home to get your child prepared for school each day. You may even choose to create a routine for your child to follow after school, for example, sharing stories about the day before bedtime.
Explain this routine to your child, for example, “After your lunch, you will have a nap,” and thereafter, give your child gentle reminders such as “In five minutes, it will be time for us to walk to school.” Your child will know what to expect and feel more self-confident during the change from home to school. Remember to stay calm and responsive to your child whenever you enact a routine. Doing so will help allow your child to turn to you for support if necessary, and help to build trust between you and your child.
2. Play with your child and act out different roles
“Look, who is this? This is Mr Cat. Mr Cat is going to school for the first time today. He is excited to make new friends at school and learn how to read and write!” In this manner, you may use stuffed animals, finger puppets or small figurines to dramatise characters that are experiencing a new environment. By modelling positive social behaviour, this will help your child make sense of the transition, and learn how they can manage that experience.
Take the chance to act out healthy coping strategies at school, for example, “Mr Cat is feeling scared. What should he do when he feels scared? Maybe Mr Cat could tell his teacher how he is feeling!”
You may also engage in role play with your child, taking turns to act out different roles so that your child can learn how to accept the change from home to school and how to take on new roles. This is also a great way to observe how your child responds to a situation, and identify ways in which you may offer them adequate reassurance.
3. Communicate with your child
The most important piece of advice for new parents is often to keep communication lines open! Talk to your child about the transition in a positive manner and share with them things that they can look forward to when they go to school. Let them know that starting school is a great achievement and that you are proud of them. You may even talk about your own experience of your first day at school, how you felt, and what you did so that it all turned out alright.
At the same time, be sensitive and consistently responsive to their attempts to communicate. Give them time to talk to you about what they think of going to school, their fears, and their insecurities. Listen to what they have to say and acknowledge feelings, while providing them with reassurance. You may remind them that it is alright to feel afraid and that many children feel that way too, but it will get better day by day.
The transition from home to school can be a big moment for families. Preparing your child for school and watching your child grow to enjoy their time there can be a positive and fulfilling experience. In using these tips to build such an experience, remember that every child is different and may manage the change in varying ways. It is thus important to find something that works for both you and your child, and to go at a suitable pace. And above all, you are not alone in this journey. Keep communications open with your child’s educators and work together to help your child transition more effectively. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child.