How to Ease Your Toddler into Starting at a New School

31/08/2016

Starting your child at a new school or daycare facility can be a bit of an emotional process for the parent, and for the child as well.  Typically, any change in a child’s daily regime can lead to a little bit of stress, or a lot, depending on the child.  If you have ever tried leaving your child with their grandparents or a babysitter, you can see how this comes into play.  Many children will start crying and will want mommy or daddy to stay with them.  But let’s get real – we have things to do and places to be.  The most difficult part is that parents often play off their child’s emotions without knowing it, and can exasperate the situation if they are not careful.

So what is it called when a child cries and throws tantrums when their parents are leaving them in unfamiliar territory?  This is known as separation anxiety:  it is anxiety provoked in a young child by separation or the threat of separation from their mother or father.  It is perfectly normal and common, and as time goes on the child will usually get used to the new schedule and the temper tantrums will cease.

Luckily there are things we can do to ensure our children have a seamless entry into a new school regime.  To understand this more deeply, we take a look at some case studies in our own preschool and daycare in Petaling Jaya, near University Hospital, Jaya One and Jaya 33.

What Can I Do To Ease My Child’s Separation Anxiety?

As stated above, your child will always mirror you and your emotions; so if you are stressed leaving your child with a friend or family, or with dropping them off at a new school they will hone in on those emotions and reflect them back to you.  One common misconception is parents believe their child is too young to understand what is going on around them, and I would like to say that children are not only perceptive, but they are incredibly intelligent as well.  Even if they haven’t the speech capacity themselves, their cognitive ability is usually on point.  Talking with your child about what will be happening helps keep them in the loop and will ease the anxiety.  Here are a few tips you can utilise when your child starts exhibiting separation anxiety:

  • Partake in a few “rehearsal-rounds.”

If your child has never left you before and you are starting them out in a new playschool, preschool or daycare centre in PJ, start practicing leaving them for a few minutes every day with a friend or family member.  Tell them goodbye and walk out the door preferably where they cannot see you, wait a few minutes and then come back in.  Don’t over exaggerate the hellos or goodbyes; if you make it a big deal they will too.  The key is to play down the emotional process as much as possible.

For example, children whose parents don’t make it a big deal when they fall down and scrape their knee often notice their children don’t make a big deal out of it either.  However, if a parent absolutely loses it every time their child falls down, the child will look to the parent for their reaction first, and if the reaction is one of fear and panic, the child will feel like something is wrong and panic as well.  Staying cool, calm and collected can help you and your child make peace with going to a new school!

 

  • Give them something that belongs to mommy or daddy when you leave as a comfort item.

Sometimes children need something from home or from mommy or daddy to help them feel comfortable in a new unfamiliar environment.  A blanket, stuffed animal or an article of clothing that belongs to mommy or daddy can do wonders for separation anxiety.

Luckily at Little Human Scholars preschool, playschool, kindergarten and daycare centre, they do everything in their power to make the transition as easy and comfortable as possible for the students.  This usually means a staff or teacher will play and connect with a new student until they are comfortable enough to join the class.  If a child is excited to go to school early on, chances are they will look forward to it in the future – LHS understands this and implements it!

  • DON’T FEED THE FEARS!!

It is normal for children to be afraid to leave you or vice versa, but you don’t have to fan the flames of fear by reacting or by reattaching yourself to them.  As a mom, I get it:  you’re your child is crying and reaching out to you it is difficult to walk away.  It is as if they you’re your heart in their chubby little hands!  And though it is difficult, often the best thing is to simply say goodbye and walk away.  Other times it may be appropriate for you to say to them, “OK, mommy is going to stay for five more minutes and then I have to go.”  Which technique you use is up to you, but do your best not to react when your child is crying.  If they see you react negatively or with fear when they cry, they may think something is very wrong and may cry even more.  So keep your poker face on and make sure your heart isn’t on your sleeve!

  • Reinforce wanted behaviour as opposed to unwanted behaviour.

This key has really supported our preschool, playschool and daycare centre.  If we simply give a child what they want when they cry, we are unconsciously telling them to cry whenever they want something and they will surely receive it.  This doesn’t work in the long-term because the child is trained to think that crying will grant them everything their heart desires.  I don’t know about you, but the kind of bosses I’ve had don’t give you what you want simply because you cry about it!  This is where reinforcing wanted behavior comes in handy.  If your child cries when you start to leave and you come back to hold them, ask yourself what behaviour are you reinforcing in your child.  For example, if you would like your child to be more independent, try rewarding independence, bravery and trying new things.  You can do this by clapping or applauding their curiousity.

 

In short, separation anxiety is natural and even normal.  Before children are able to communicate the most effective method of communication for them was to cry to get your attention.  And keep in mind that, up until the point of daycare or school, they have relied solely on you and your family for their survival.  It is natural for them to resist change.  But you can ease them into change with a little bit of time and effort.  After a while they will be used to the new schedule and will adapt accordingly!

Wishing you happy parenting experiences!

Jana Moreno

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