Preparing For Preschool
Last week I asked my son if he was looking forward to going to preschool (“school”) the next day. He said he was. I then told him that I wouldn’t be able to stay because I was sick, and I wouldn’t want to make the children sick. But that he could stay and play, and that I would go and do some work, and then come back to take him home. He said “ok” tentatively. Then his bottom lip pouted, and as tears started to pool in his eyes, he said “but I’ll miss you.”
Cue mummy heartbreak.
This was just as we sat down to dinner, and because I was feeling so crappy already, I was a mess. After he sat back down from giving me a cuddle, I went to our room and had a huge cry.
Because it doesn’t matter how much you may “know,” what your profession is, or even if you have a really helpful toolkit; being a mum is an emotional roller-coaster.
I know a lot about development, I know what is going on at my sons age, and how that effects him; and that knowing can sometime be really hard. To “know” means that I can’t plead ignorance, I can’t just drop him off and leave, because I know the risk, which is hard. Sometimes it is easier to be ignorant.
Knowing means I do have a toolkit that can be really helpful. Helpful because I am able to do things in a way that is going to meet BOTH MY needs AND my sons needs. And I would love to share this with you. For those who are like me, and feel empowered through information, then this is for you.
This is most helpful for the first/oldest child when they go to preschool, or for a child whose next oldest sibling was in primary school when they were born, or if your second etc. child will be going to a different child-care.
The reason is because subsequent children who see an older sibling going to day-care (the day care they will go to) are already being involved with the environment and people; in a slow and gentle way, that allows a relationship and sense of safety to build slowly. Often meaning that when it comes time for them to start going, there is less risk of it being AS challenging.
But for those children who don’t have that opportunity, to get familiar means to allow your child the opportunity to “get to know” the people and the space with you there. Why? Because you are their safe space. Just as is explained in attachment theory, a secure attachment for a child means that they become more confident and more bold (as they get older), because they have a secure base (their primary caregiver) from which they can go forth and explore the world. This is achieved by meeting the need of our children with sensitivity and awareness, and not just their physical needs, but their emotional need too.
So when it comes to day care, it means that their need for safety and reassurance is met by having you present WHILST they build a relationship with this new place and new people. Because relationships take time. However, it means that one or two visits isn’t really enough.
What is most beneficial, if possible, is to allow (in addition to informal visits) between four to eight actually days at day care with you being there too.
So if you book your child in for a Wednesday, once they start, you join them for the first four to eight Wednesdays. However, this does not necessarily mean being there for the WHOLE day. What I suggest is to slowly increment your time away as your child because more familiar with their school, the teachers, and their peers.
Here is what I have done.
First day = whole day with interaction (if he needed hugs of for me to fix something etc. I would).
Second day = leaving for half an hour at lunch, and staying more seated and trying to encourage interaction with teachers when he needed something (always giving hugs)
Third day = leaving for an hour at lunch. I stayed seated inside (even when the children were outside – take a book). If he asked me for help with something I would again refer to his teachers (the hugs never fade, but he asked for less).
Fourth day = Left for three and a half hours, and same as above.
The fifth day we were sick. But here was plan:
Fifth day = Four and a half hours away, and the rest as above.
Sixth day = Five hours away and the rest as above (for a remaining hour)
Seventh day = Away for the six hours.
I would remain at a six hour day until I believed he was ready for more, or if commitments required.
Even better still would be to remain at a half day for a few months and then jump up. And with my son, if the six hours seem too much, then I will drop it back. But I also know that not everyone can do that, so this process is more for those who have to get back to work, or really need that day.
As some of you who follow my work will know, I LOVE to use Attachment Play (Aletha Solter, Ph.D) as a tool in supporting my son to navigate pretty much anything and everything.
So before preschool I offer some time to play.
This has primarily been in the form of present time, where we play for half an hour and I follow his lead (very child centred/child driven) but I also like to throw in some separation games.
Separation games are any form of game that allows for a separation to occur between you and your child. A primary example is hide and seek. My son LOVES hide and seek, which really helps with separation anxiety. Playing Hide and seek before school acts as a really wonderful, playful, reminder that even if we are separated, we always end up together again.
I might add in different elements, such as pretending to be scared when he finds me, or trying to run and hide somewhere else, and not being able to find him etc. Depending on what I feel will get the laughs. This is because the laughter is what helps dissolve tension. The more he laughs, the more relaxed he is able to feel about separation. And this works, because play is a therapeutic tool (among other things), and he is able to “work through” the fear of separation in a way that is comfortable for him to do so.
Another game he has initiated recently is one where he is a “gate” and I can’t get past. I then have to crawl under his legs and he collapses on top of me. I then “go looking” for him (he is hanging upside down on my back – legs over my shoulders). He laughs and laughs at this. I then “give up” and sit on the bed, where he rolls off, and I am so very shocked to find him.
Just like starting a new job for us as adults, or any endeavour, preschool is really scary and challenging for children. There are lots of children they will likely have troubles with, rules they don’t understand or aren’t really developmentally achievable, ways of doing things that are completely different from home, new ways of speaking, and a whole lot more. It is all really overwhelming, frustrating, upsetting, and exciting, full of fun, and joy, all at the same time.
Then when they get home, and maybe even for a day or two later, they can be really out of sorts. Perhaps hitting more often, being uncooperative, not responding to requests, and so on.
The reason is because of those feelings. It is all so very much for them, and they aren’t able to process it on their own, they can’t even communicate with words, what might actually be happening for them. So they need us to hold space and listen.
Think of it as a vent at the end of a hard day. Just like when we need to, all we really want is for someone to listen and validate how we may be feeling. Not to fix it, not tell us what we should have done, to analyse, say “I told you so,” or anything else. JUST listen. So too is this what our children need,
What that may look like, is this: at bedtime your child may start throwing a tantrum about not having another book, the right pajamas, the sheets being scratchy, or anything else. And instead of fixing, distracting, punishing, ignoring, or anything else, you simply sit by your baby, put a hand on theirs, and say “I know. You’re really upset. I am here.” It doesn’t need to be analysed. If they are upset about their pajamas, then just focus on that “You really want your dinosaur pajamas, and they are in the wash. That is really upsetting. I know, I can’t get them, they are dirty.” And just be there as they rage. It really probably isn’t about their pajamas, it is likely about all the feelings they had that day that they are unable to voice; all they need is a funnel. The pajamas provide that funnel. A focus for them to get it out. Think of it as the straw that broke the camels back.
We are there to listen, because that is how a child’s psychology learns HOW to deal with emotions. This is called co-regulation. It is because children don’t yet have the neurological capacity to do this for themselves, but the outline of a framework exists. By us being with them and being their “external” presence for processing, their brain can begin to build the networks needed to do this later in life, in a healthy way. Without the example, a brain tries to do this on its own and it really struggles.
But, it also means that our children can simply heal and vent to the person they love and rely on most, and who is their safe place. Which means that they are able to return to their true selves much faster. No one is them-self when they feel agitated, frustrated, upset etc. So by venting those feelings and processing them, children no longer have that emotional barrier preventing them from being kind, cooperative, loving and so on.
Even if you have already got a child in daycare, it is never to late to support them on this journey. Both play and listening are the biggest and most powerful tools in a parenting toolkit. They are the different sides of the same coin that allows parents and families to move through life’s journeys with a deeper sense of connection. Our children are so deeply connected to us, each stage can be a challenge, be scary, be hard, and also be incredibly beautiful at the same time. But that don’t have to be damaging to our relationship with them, or leave us pulling our hair out as to what to do. Preschool is a big step, and here is to being gentle with our children AND ourselves.
If you are unsure about what this may look like, or where you can start, I have 15min free phone consultations to give you some insights into Aware Parenting (created by Aletha Solter, Ph.D) and the various strategies that I can support you to learn, in navigating various parenting challenges. Please feel free to email me to book one in, if you think it may be helpful for you.