Starting preschool can feel like a big jump. For little ones, it can bring up strong feelings to be away from home for long hours. Even if they have been in daycare, changing to a new environment with new peers and more structure can be challenging, and you may need help learning how to to prepare your child for preschool.
Luckily, there’s plenty you can do to help them prep, whether it’s in terms of practical skills like helping them with their small motor coordination, or the more socio-emotional side. In fact the parent-child connection is one of the most crucial elements in helping your child feel emotionally confident and ready to learn. (No pressure though!) Our children are complex beings, and there are many factors outside our control. Still, there’s lots you can do to support them through the process.
Here are a few ideas for setting your little one up for success at preschool.
1. Remember that even a few moments can be special
Connection is everything. Brain science tells us that when a child feels bonded to an adult they internalize that sense of connection, and it helps them to feel confident to spend time away from their caregiver.
In our busy lives that sense of connection sometimes get frayed. Or children have difficult experiences that can make them feel clingy. Luckily even five minutes can help to restore it.
Choose a moment when you have a bit of free time, perhaps in the evening, at the weekend or even first thing in the morning. Set a timer for 10-20 minutes, or just 5 if that’s all you have available. Tell your child it’s ‘special time’ and they can do anything of their choice. Shower your warm attention on them.
Done regularly, special time becomes a safe space where your child can bring up life’s challenges, roleplaying separation fears or school scenarios. This can help them with processing experiences and growing in confidence.
2. Laughter is medicine for preschool nerves
Research has shown that laughter releases feel-good endorphins which help to lower the levels of stress hormones in our bodies. Children naturally get wild, and giggly at times like bedtime when they try to wind down to sleep, or when they are processing feelings. Sometimes this can be hard for adults to handle if they aren’t aware of this natural healing process, and try to help them ‘calm down.’
In fact, encouraging the giggles can help de-stressing. Joining in the play can help restore a sense of connection. Putting yourself in the less powerful role can really get the giggles flowing. This helps to counteract feelings of being less powerful such as going to school. Playful game ideas might be, trying to push mama off the sofa, or pillow fights where the parent always loses in the end!
3. Tell stories to help make sense of the world
Stories are how we humans make sense of the world. Reading picture books together is a wonderful way to share information about what the school day will be like. It can also inspire conversation, or even play. You could try having some stuffed toys act out the school day. Maybe have one toy as the teacher, and some other toys as students sitting in groups with common preschool activities like pens and paper for coloring, or building blocks. Letting your child act the role of the teacher can also be a fun role reversal, to help them feel powerful.
4. Look on the brighter side of tears
In our culture, the purpose of crying is not widely understood. Many parents see tears as a sign they have failed, something they need to stop ASAP. However, crying actually has a healing purpose. It’s a natural way to relieve stress and tension to restore a sense of emotional equilibrium. When parents can listen to tears, offer hugs, and comfort, allowing their child to cry, rather than rushing to distract and fix it helps this healing process take place.
5. Set limits with love
If your child is struggling with the transition, or has separation fears, they may not tell you with words. Their challenges are more likely to be shown through their behavior. They might have more emotional upsets than normal, or be un-cooperative. Learning the art of setting loving limits, without the threat of punishment, can help them process whatever difficulty they are experiencing.
If your child says no to a bath at the end of the school day, or won’t get dressed in the morning, then try getting down on their level, making eye contact, and gently setting a limit. Connection breeds cooperation. When a child feels your presence, they are more likely to cooperate.
They might also use this moment as an opportunity to let go of big feelings. Perhaps they burst into tears, or get giggly. Taking time to listen, setting the limit gently and playfully, while allowing any upset feelings can help them return to their natural, co-operative selves.
6. Strive for smooth mornings
It can be really helpful to factor in a bit of extra time in the morning, especially when children are getting used to change. Moments of laughter, a five-minute special time, or chatting over breakfast can help children have the daily dose of mama time that they need to shine.
7. Resist asking ‘’How was school?’’
If you ask this question and don’t get much of an answer, then don’t fret. It’s common for young children to respond with grunts, or ‘I can’t remember.’ If you want to hear how their day went, offer them 10 minutes of special time. They love to speak metaphorically through the language of play. You’ll soon see the bossy teacher in the way your child’s big stuffed toy speaks to the smaller one, or the sad friend in a crying teddy. Showing it all rather than telling it with words builds a sense of resilience to deal with life’s challenges.
8. Find a supportive group
Parenting is emotional work, and being there for your child’s emotions is only possible when someone is there for yours! Schedule that coffee with your mom friends. Talk to a counselor about your big feelings about your little one. Journal your feelings about the transition and what’s hard for you. Often present day emotions have their roots in the past, and if school was a struggle for you, it can be helpful to remember that your child is a brand new person, who will have different experiences than you did.