By Jan Wilson
As your little one makes the exciting transition to preschool, you may find your own anticipation laced with a host of concerns. An experienced mom shares her tips for smoothing the path to preschool for both parent and child.
Beginning preschool is an exciting time for families, opening up a new world of experiences for your child and you. Throughout the year, you'll see your child learn so much more than just her ABC'sshe'll gain new social skills, grow more independent and confident, and have fun, too!
If you're sending your child to preschool for the first time, you may be wondering how to make these years before elementary school as productive as possible. How will your child adjust to being away from his primary caregiver all day? Will he make friends? Will she be able to follow directions and enjoy herself? And, perhaps most importantly, will there be enough potty breaks?!
Take a deep breath and relax, Mama! Preschool will be a learning adventure not only for your child, but for you as well! No matter what concerns you, there are other adults at preschool to help you. If you have confidence that you've picked the right school for your child, you should allow yourself to be guided by the professionals who will be staffing your child's classrooms, as well as other parents whose children have attended the preschool.
Meeting your child's teacher before the first day of school helps the teacher to get to know you and your child and establishes the basis for a good parent-teacher relationship. Getting acquainted with the teacher and classroom can also ease a child's anxiety about the unknowns of school, as young children are more comfortable in predictable situations.
Make sure you let your child's teacher know about any other significant people in your child's life, as well as any recent disruptions, such as the birth of a new sibling, a move, or the illness of a grandparent. And don't forget to ask the teacher how to best contact her. Discussing important issues with the teacher at pick-up and drop-off times isn't fair to the teacher and doesn't give your concern the focused time that it deserves. Instead, schedule a meeting with the teacher or ask if you can communicate with her via email or telephone.
Trust the Teachers' Experience
Marlene Barron, Ph.D., head of school at West Side Montessori, a 200-student preschool in New York, says that parents often struggle because they don't believe their child's preschool teacher fully recognizes the child's uniqueness.
"I think that the hardest thing for parents is that their child is very special to them and they want the teacher to believe that child is very special also. No teacher is ever going to feel about a child the way a parent does, and that's a healthy thing," she says.
"Teachers are looking at children within the context of a lot of other children. Teachers know a lot about children and child development," adds Barron. "The parent only knows his child historically. So while he may have historical information, he really doesn't know child development or what typical behavior for the child's peer group is. A teacher knows that well."
Don't Overact to Conflicts
Even normally well-behaved children can find themselves in tangles with peersand young children often lack the social skills needed to resolve conflicts. When this happens, a parent sometimes needs to step in and handle the situation with care.
"One tip that I actually learned is to go through the teacher when there is a conflict with another child," says Lynn Olson of Oak Park, Illinois, the mother of a seven-year- old son and three-year-old daughter. "My son came home with stories about things that happened in school, and if I believed all of them I would have been in big trouble. My kid is honest but he is also a little kid and the world looks very different from down there. The teacher is able to take a close look at the situation and talk to the other parent if there is a conflict; if one parent approaches another parent, it can be taken very personally and can backfire on all parties."
Parents also sometimes find themselves in conflict with their child's teacher. In this case, it's crucial that you approach the teacher first, rather than going immediately to the director or complaining to other parents.
"We say very clearly in our handbook that the first person to go to is the teacher," Barron says. "We also have social workers who can work with the kids at our school."
Olson adds, "Don't go behind the teacher's back by gossiping with other parents about the teacher's performance. Be direct without being defensive and get to the pointdon't waste the teacher's time."
If you and the teacher cannot work out a solution or agree on a course of action, then approach the director for assistance.
Don't Worry about Separation Anxiety
When your child is going to school for the first time, it's natural that he may have problems separating from you or his caregiver. While this may be true, veteran parents caution that you also should look at yourself to see whether you are contributing to your child's feelings of sadness about letting you go. Children are very observant, and if a child sees her mother worrying, she may mirror this emotion. It's OK to shed a few tears about this new milestone in your little one's lifejust try not to do it in front of your preschooler.
Rebecca Kramnick, the mother of eight- and four-year-old daughters in Hoboken, New Jersey, says that through her own children's preschool experiences, she has seen other parents who have reinforced their children's separation anxiety.
"For parents who are having tremendous separation issues, they have to think about their own problems with separation. If you are acting like school is going to be a positive experience, the kid is going to pick it up," says Kramnick. "Obviously preschool is a major separation hurdle, but I really do think it's one of those things that you have to talk yourself through so as to not create a monster, or you will be in that preschool lobby that entire year with a crying child on your leg."
Don't Be Afraid To Change
While most children will do just fine in any preschool setting with a competent caring staff, occasionally the fit is just wrong. Maybe your child's preschool has a staff that's not willing to work with your child's toilet training. Or perhaps you don't agree with the school's discipline methods. Whatever the case, if you have true philosophical differences with the school's policies, don't be afraid to find another institution that is a better fit.
"You shouldn't hesitate to look for a different school if you don't think it's working out at the current preschool. I wish I had done this for my son when he was going through his biting phase," says Traci Benson of Custer, South Dakota.
"My husband and I were doing everything that we could think of to help [my son] not bite, but the problem was just that his verbal communication skills weren't up to where they needed to be, so when he'd get frustrated with another child for taking a toy from him, or whatever, he'd bite. We talked to his teacher, but she wouldn't try to help our son use his words to express his feelings."
After three months of frequently being sent home for the biting, Benson's son was dismissed from the school completely. "It turned out to be a blessing, though, because then we found a much better school for him, and after we talked with his teacher, she worked with himand he only ever bit one time after starting the new school," says Benson.
Chances are that sending your child to school for the first time will be more stressful for your child than for you. If you select a good school and work with the teachers and administration as a team, you'll be building a great foundation for your child's success in elementary school and beyond.