Time to School:  Preparing the Toddler

The summer time of vacations, late nights and late mornings, easy relaxed days is about to be over. It’s time again for schools to reopen, for parents to pull themselves and children up - to run with the pace of the clock and for children to adjust again to the routine and discipline of the school.

School time is a time that tenses both the child, and the parent for its associated discipline and routine. And if the child is stepping in the school environment for the first time, it enhances the anxiety many folds.  As parents we play a major role in how fast and how well the child gets comfortable and settles in the new environment of the school.

When we leave the child at the gate of the school, the child is confused and scared. Never earlier we allowed the child to be alone anywhere. We told multiple scary versions of what could happen if the child goes alone anywhere or talks to strangers. This caution that we set in the child’s mind as fear, makes the child go uneasy and cry when we leave the child in school. The place is new and all the people are strangers to the child. The child resists being with them by crying, screaming, biting, hitting, throwing up and not eating. During the initial days it is natural for the child to react in this manner. If she/he would not react this way, we shall be alert as then the child might not raise an alarm in the company of strangers.

This reaction shall be handled with empathy towards the child. Do plan a couple of visits prior to the D-Day and spend some time in the play area of the child’s school with the child. Familiarity with the place and people around reduces the child’s anxiety and helps the transition and settling. Talk to the child about new friends and teachers the child will meet and the interesting activities she/he would do. Comfort her/him by reinforcing that she/he will be safe and taken care of. Drop the child with a relaxed gesture and comforting tone. Say bye to the child, reinforce that she/he will have interesting activities to do and then you will COME TO PICK her/him up. This takes care of the child’s fear about where you have left her/him, and when will you come back. If the child knows you are standing out and peeping, a child will also hold on to the gate, screaming and resisting more to go to teachers. A child senses the parent’s anxiety and this makes its own anxieties and fears worse. The parents’ comfort and relaxation rubs positively on to the child too.

Pick the child with a welcoming smile and hug. Ask positive questions like How was the music time? You enjoyed dancing and colouring? I am sure you shared and enjoyed with your friends? This sets the tone for the subsequent days and makes the child know that these things are waiting for her/him. In contrast if we ask questions like did someone hit you? Did your teacher get angry? Did you not like the place etc. we are setting the child into believing that this all would happen here, thus paving the way for unsettling rather than settling the child. As parents we have selected the best for our child after all the due diligence. And, we need to pass this confidence to our child; not the imaginary fears.

Even when once settled, the child gets bad Monday Blues for some time. The child also shows resistance after holidays and leaves or even with changes like visitors at home, a parent travelling out, parent being unwell, being dropped late etc. For some children the ‘separation anxiety’ is high and they would cry and cling to the parent routinely during drop. In all these instances, the child normally settles down and gets active after coming to class.

Each child will take her/his own time to settle. Coordinate and cooperate with the child’s teacher and work together in this process. Hold your urge to see your child to be in the first few to settle. Avoid pushing the child by always telling that no one is crying but only her/him. Each child is a unique individual. Allow the needed time and space for the child to go through this new phase of her/his life. As parent we know this is important for the child. If we hold on to our patience, positivity and perseverance, we will soon see the child all smiles in her/his first journey into the outside world.

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