How to Ease Preschool Anxiety
The first days of preschool can create jitters in even the most confident, sociable children. It’s normal for new expectations, new routines and new teachers to cause little ones to feel separation anxiety, especially if they’ve never spent time away from home before. If your tiny tot is about to head off to school for the first time, here are a few tips you can use to help ease the transition.
Talk About It
For many children, preschool might be the first time a child is away from his or her parents for any extended length of time, and this, naturally, can make them feel nervous or even scared, explains Kristin Henry, an early intervention teacher with the Westmoreland Intermediate Unit’s Young Learners Center in Jeannette, PA.
“A lack of exposure to different environments can make a child nervous, especially if they’re used to being home with Mom all day,” says Henry.
To get your child used to the idea, simply talking and reading about school can help. “Every favorite children’s character, like Curious George or Daniel Tiger, has a storybook about going to school,” Henry says.
Using a book as a springboard to discussions about preschool can help your child learn what to expect.
Another way to offset preschool anxiety is to visit the school well in advance of the first day. Most preschools offer an orientation for parents and new students; if not, contact the school and request a time to visit and meet the teacher. These visits allow children time to explore the classroom and interact with the teacher while mom and dad are still within reach, which helps them feel safe.
Henry, who’s been teaching preschoolers for 10 years, says that visuals can also help to lessen fears.
“Before the first day, parents can take a photo of the school or the classroom so that the child gets familiar with the environment,” she says. “Simple things like taking in a favorite snack and cup the first few school days, and also bringing a family photo to keep in their cubby, can help, too.”
Get In, Get Out
Let’s be honest—parents also feel a great deal of anxiety when they drop their children off at preschool for the first time. Since children can feed off of their parents’ emotions, it’s important for parents to remain as calm and as upbeat as possible, says Henry.
“It’s better for the parent to separate quickly,” says Henry. “Even if the child is upset or visibly worried, the sooner mom or dad leaves, the faster he or she will calm down.”
If your child is sobbing or clinging onto you as you leave, try not to fret. They likely won’t spend the entire day crying, says Henry. “Typically, as soon as the parent leaves and the child realizes that they’re there to have fun and learn, they’re fine,” she explains.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
And parents shouldn’t worry that their kiddos will be left to “cry it out,” as children who seem to be struggling more will get the extra attention they need.
“If they need more support from the teaching staff to help them adjust, they will get it,” Henry says.
Moreover, older children, or children who’ve been in the program before will sometimes help the new students feel more comfortable.
“Often times, our ‘seasoned’ kids will help the new ones learn the routines, which helps a great deal,” she points out.
Overall, once they get past the hurdle of the first few days, most children adjust well to their new daily routine.
“Just keep emphasizing that they’re there to have fun, to learn, and to meet new friends,” says Henry. “They’ll get into the swing of things quickly and learn to love school.”
Jennifer Brozak is a freelance writer from Pittsburgh who has a passion for all things parenting and education. She contributes to a variety of local and national outlets and blogs about her family’s escapades at One Committed Mama.