My little girl has just started school after 2.5 years at home with me. I am not sure who is battling more. We’ve had tears every morning (pretty much from both sides) and I must admit, it has been a challenge for me to let go and give someone else control in comforting her and making her happy. It is also hard to take all of my knowledge and training and apply it to my own child. Being a Therapist goes out of the window when you are a Mama. I just want to scoop her up and high-tail it out of there to go on one of our usual adventures. But, I have to keep in mind that this is best for her, even if it does not feel that way initially . If you too are battling with the school transition, the following tips may help in making things a little easier:
- Role Play – Parents often feel silly doing these exercises but trust me, your kids love them and it really helps them to practice and work through their feelings and emotions. Pretend to be going to school, she can be the teacher and you be her, and then switch. When in doubt, role play!
- Use a Count-Down Calendar – A visual tracker is always a big winner with kids, especially toddlers. Make a calendar of the week together and chat about what will happen the next day the night before. Put a big cross if there is no school and a smiley face if it is a school day. Ask them to go and check the calendar each morning to let you know what the day will hold. Involving them in the process of going to school gives toddlers some of that control that they love so much!
- Go Shopping Together – Once again, involve your child in the process. Purchase staionery and a new bag of her choice; Ask her to choose her snacks or what she would like for lunch. A good way to avoid the “I want ice cream and sour worms” answer is to give concrete choices – “Would you like strawberries or pineapple in your lunch today?”
- Get the Sleep Schedule on Track – Sleep is so important! If you are a parent, you know this! My daughters sleeping through the night has gone out the window since school has started . Night wakings, battling to fall asleep and wanting milk in the night (what the heck?!) is now back! While this is all normal and to be expected when little ones go through big changes, this lack of sleep and new structure also impacts her behaviour and mood, which in turn, impacts her sleep. It is a vicious cycle!
- Read Some Books – I Love You All Day Long, The Kissing Hand, Go Home, Mrs. Beekman and The Night Before Kindergarten are great books to read to little ones! Often, social stories help children to work through issues that they are having, without having the focus directly on them. They see that the Skunk in the book also struggles with leaving Mom, but that his Mom always comes back, and so will theirs.
- Nest the Night Before – Involve your child in packing bags, lunch, choosing clothes etc. Again, make them part of the process and give them some control.
- Pack a Piece of Home – Anyone who knows my child knows that she is obsessed with her Dudu! It is her comfort object and her safe place when I am not around. I have let her carry it into school every morning and hold it until after I have gone and she feels okay. Her teacher then pops it into her bag.
- Create a Special Good-Bye Ritual – Whether it’s a silly handshake or a simple call-and-response phrase like, “See ya later alligator/After a while crocodile,” find something unique to do as you say your goodbyes. The repetition translates into comfort, letting your child know that they are in a situation they’ve been in before. Plus, it also gives you a firm exit point.
- Keep it Short but Sweet – One of the biggest mistakes parents make is to turn school drop-off into the long goodbye. Give them one last hug, take a deep breath, trust the teachers and walk away. Even if your child starts crying, don’t linger because it will make it worse. (And keep it together, Mom! You can cry in private once you’re out of sight).
- Celebrate at Pick Up – At the end of the school day, make sure you are not late. Then, make like a cheerleader and tell her how proud you are and what a big girl she is.
Be patient: it will generally take a few weeks before your child fully adjusts to the new school schedule. Keep your morning routine consistent and your goodbyes short, and your little one will eventually get used to school. Also, stock up on wine.