Change is never easy, but it’s inevitable, and with it comes the need for adjustments. So, if you’re prepared for what’s coming, your child’s transition to preschool becomes more manageable – for everyone. “If this process and transition is dealt with in a mindful and supportive manner, it has the potential to equip your child with the necessary tools for negotiating future changes and their eventual independence from you,” says Johannesburg-based educational psychologist Kirstan Puttick Lloyd. Your little one is sure to feel both excited and anxious during this time – she will anticipate the new toys, knowledge and playmates that nursery school has to offer, but also have anxiety about entering a new environment and being away from you. Since small children have difficulty processing and expressing their emotions, you are responsible for guiding and supporting her through this transition.
Follow these tips to prepare your toddler for preschool:
Jenny da Silva, a registered educational psychologist, encourages parents to introduce the concept of preschool in an exciting way. “Take her on a trip to see her new school and perhaps let her meet the new teacher in a calm environment.” Reading your little one stories about preschool can be incorporated into her bedtime routine, which is a great way to prepare her mind for her new reality.
This is a transitional phase for you, too, so you will learn to respond to your child differently. “While it is important that you remain mindful of how much separation your child can tolerate as she starts nursery school, it is equally as important that you don’t undermine your child’s developing self-reliance and new sense of surviving without you,” advises Kirstan. You can support your child according to the stage she’s in; if you usually jump in to help her with tasks, for example, now is the time to take a step back. This will give your toddler the confidence to manage tasks without you. Encouraging your tot to pack her toys away when playtime is over, is a great way to teach her independence. Julia suggests that your child takes part in choosing her own clothes and that you let her walk up the path to school on her own rather than carrying her as this will boost her confidence. “Being carried communicates to your child that she needs protection,” she explains.
Allow a familiar object
Kirstan explains that learning to tolerate being away from you is a developmental milestone for your child, and so is learning ways to soothe and comfort herself. A transitional object plays an important role in helping your child feel more settled. Children generally have favourite stuffed toys, but if toys are not permitted at the school, she could take a blanket or dummy. “Taking a treasured object to school might be a way for your child to feel connected to you,” she adds. You can also help her learn to settle herself to sleep by gradually reducing her reliance on you. If she is accustomed to being rocked in your arms, you could alter this part of her routine. Also, if you stimulate her during the day, like they would at nursery, then it will be easier for her to drift off to sleep when you put her down for a nap. This will take practice, so patience is key.
Build her trust
When you leave your child in someone else’s care, she needs to trust that you’ll be back, so try to be consistent. “If you break the routine, it will take as many as 50 more repetitions of the routine before your child gains back the confidence lost,” cautions specialised educator Julia Gorham. Leaving something that belongs to you with your child can also serve as reassurance that you’ll be back. It could be something like a scarf that smells of you. This communicates to her that she is looking after the item for you, and you’ll be back. Jenny agrees that your toddler needs to know what is going to happen on the big day. “A child who is securely attached knows that she is being dropped off at school to play and learn and that in a few hours you will be there to take her home. Communicate this in a concrete way as children don’t understand the abstract concept of time.”
Thobeka Phanyeko is mom to Oratile, 4. She is a journalist with a BA in Media studies from the University of Cape Town and has extensive experience as a journalist and content producer which she gained from Reuters, eNCA and Caxton Magazines. She is also a life coach and NLP Practitioner and is passionate about motherhood and women empowerment.