By Pam Wolf, Founder & CEO, NY Kids Club
Preschool is a significant milestone, and as a parent it’s natural to feel conflicted. You want your child to transition and acclimate successfully, but there is always pain in change and in parting. As a mother of four, I faced many moments like these! Here are some helpful tips for preparing your child to enter a new world with confidence and excitement.
Keep it light.
Though you may not know it, children can easily sense when their parents are overwhelmed, anxious or frustrated. If you are uneasy, your child will determine that she should also be uneasy. You hold all the power when it comes to her perception of school, so implement a strategy to manage your stress and hers. Be calm and easy when you talk about school. Be positive and steady as you set out to prepare her in the weeks leading up to the first day. Remember that you are her rock, and she will likely mirror the example you set.
Act it out.
Prepare your child in the weeks leading up to the first day of school by previewing what he can expect. Act out scenarios taking turns in the roles of child, parent and teacher. Here are a few fun things to practice together:
• Taking off and hanging your coat
• Saying goodbye to Mommy or Daddy
• Eating lunch from a lunchbox
• Reading stories (about preschool, if possible!)
• Singing songs
• Taking naps
• Playing outside
Also be sure to rehearse picking him up from school so he will understand that the day has an endpoint. Acting out these skills and routines is also an opportunity to answer his questions and reassure him that preschool is a safe place to learn and grow.
Pay a visit.
Take your child to visit her school and meet her teachers before the program begins. (This is a great time to ask questions of your own and learn how to better prepare her.) You may also want to arrange a few play dates before school starts to create a positive association.
Set new routines.
You want to work smarter, not harder. Two to three weeks before school starts, begin to alter your weekday routine to resemble the routine of the school year. You may think you want to savor those last few weeks by preserving your normal schedule, but you’re making more work for yourself in the long run! Here are some suggestions for getting organized and making the transition less jarring:
• Go school shopping for a backpack, just the two of you. If possible, let him choose it to empower him as “big kid” starting preschool.
• Label the backpack and other loose items (lunchbox, jacket, etc.) with his name and his teacher’s name in permanent marker.
• If your child takes medication on a daily basis, contact the school and take care of the paperwork in advance.
• Know how your child will be getting to and from school. If you have arranged for afterschool help from a neighbor, caregiver or friend, be sure your child understands how he’ll be cared for.
• Change “summer bedtime” to an earlier “school bedtime.” Healthy sleep habits will help him adjust to a school schedule before it starts, which is much nicer for you.
• Establish a special but simple “goodbye” routine. I found I could minimalize separation anxiety by blowing three kisses to one of my children, while another wanted me to sing a few lines of his favorite song. Whatever it is, make sure your child plays a part in creating this comforting coping mechanism.
Watch and listen.
Be on the lookout for verbal and nonverbal signs of worry in your child. She may be especially nervous the night before school, so keep things light and relaxed. Be sure she goes to bed on time, and let her pick out the clothes she will wear to save time in the morning. Before bed, try to talk about something other than school.
If she expresses any worry, listen, don’t dismiss. Let her know that her feelings are completely normal—you might even share a story about a time you felt worried and how you got through it. By allowing her to share her fears, you can walk her through them and show her how to deal with them. (Try this great list of phrases to help calm an anxious child.)
Make your exit.
Plan to stay for 15-20 minutes while your child acclimates to the classroom. When he starts to relax, it’s time to go! If he doesn’t seem comfortable, ask a teacher to stay with him when you leave so that an adult will be there to support him. It will be hard, but try to resist the urge to come back if you hear him cry. Responding to his distress by reappearing sends the message that he can’t be happy if you’re not there. Preschool teachers are experts at helping children adapt to school, and you can help make their work easier by not lingering.
Best of luck in the coming school year, and above all, remember to stay positive. Your child’s new routine will feel natural soon enough!
From the Enrichment Experts at NY Kids Club:
Pamela Wolf founded the NY Kids Club and NY Preschool in September of 2001, which have grown to become the premiere enrichment centers for children two months to12 years. Ms. Wolf has been recognized as a Business Mentor of the Year, Best Entrepreneur, and one of the top female entrepreneurs of the year by Entrepreneur magazine. Ms. Wolf’s extensive business background and simultaneous experience as a mother of four have allowed the NY Kids Club to successfully expand to sixteen locations in New York and twelve in China. The company received INC 500/5000 list recognition in 2014. Of the several successful businesses Pamela Wolf has owned in New York, she is most proud of the NY Kids Club.