Monday, January 9, 2017

How to help my child adjust to preschool

If your child is struggling to adjust to preschool, your mornings may have turned heart wrenching and frustrating as your child doesn’t want to leave home. Then, it just may be a great opportunity to help your child learn something he or she will need through his or her life: How to face a challenge when you are feeling frightened?

Morning time is especially stressing. Everyone is in a hurry because we don’t want to be late to work or to school. However, if your child is yelling at you, crying, giving you a frowny face or, just looks upset for having to go to Pre-K, try to sit back, relax, and have a positive  Teamwork Session with your child.

How to help my child face challenges
Yes. You read it: Teamwork. It means we grown-ups have to listen, help our children talk to us about what is going on, and work on a solution together. 4-year-old children are ready to let you know what is bothering them, if you are willing to be an “active listener”, help them put a name on the emotions they are struggling with, and put together a plan and put it in place, as a team, to solve the problem.

You need to keep in mind you’ve just been given a wonderful opportunity to help your preschooler learn something that will be an incredible source of inner strength for him of her, for the rest of their lives. Your child will never forget what he or she will learn out of this situation: 

1) My mom and/or dad are always on my side to help me. I am NOT ALONE
2) My mom and/or dad listen to me, and they believe in me
3) This is how we face challenges and solve problems: we sit down together and talk about it, identify the problem and we design and implement a solution 

So, instead of facing this like a heart wrenching and frustrating situation, you can embrace it as a huge opportunity to strengthen your connection with your child, and your teamwork and collaboration skills.

Hope -my child- has always been a little quiet. I mean, I always noticed she kept a lot to herself and did not talk about her "emotions". In fact, she almost did not cry, even when she fell or bumped her head. So, I have been watching closely. 

My child had been attending Pre-K and was doing just fine before the Winter Break. She was very enthusiastic in the mornings and couldn’t wait to get into her classroom. I just couldn’t feel any prouder of my super independent and self-confident child. But one night, suddenly, she told me she wanted to stay at home because she didn’t like it at Pre-K. The next morning, she didn’t want to change her pajamas, so I dressed her up while she was all mumbling. I was just grabbing my car keys when I heard that phrase: -“I am not going to Preschool again”- and saw her frowny face. We were already late. If this sounds familiar to you, then the following tips will help you out:

1) Understand the Problem: Show what a great listener you can be
Ask your child “Why is it that you don’t want to go to Pre-K?”. If you notice your child is struggling to find the words to express what he or she wants to say, just give him or her some time. Don’t put words in your child’s mouth. To help my child talk about her feelings, we played 1x1: “Me first: I will tell you one thing I like about my job and one thing I don’t like about it. Then, it is your turn: you tell me one thing you like about Pre-K and one thing you don’t like about it”. She came up with: “I like playing with girls” and “I don’t know their name” 

2) Help your child put a name on the emotions: Be honest and sympathetic
I rephrased: “Are you feeling sad and mad because you want to play with your friends and you can’t?” 

3) Design a plan that will work for you as a team and involve the Teacher. This is what we worked out together:
  • Hope and Mom go to Pre-K: Mom starts playing with Hope and the other girls for a little while and, getting to know them by their names.
  • Mom stays a while at Pre-K and observes the dynamics in the classroom to help identify the problem’s root cause: I noticed my child is struggling to communicate with the other kids. She is being raised bilingual, so we were not talking in English at home. This wasn't a problem for her before the Winter Break, but it is now. 
  • Mom talks with the Teacher and asks for her help: I explained to her what Hope had told me back at home, her reluctance of coming to Preschool. Of course, she got very involved in our plan, adopted a proactive role, and provided feedback.
4)   Keep the Communication Flowing between you and your Child.
  • Talk with your child and fine-tune the final plan: in our case, we decided we would start talking more English at home to practice so that it will be easier to play with the other kids.
  • Make sure you follow up with the Teacher and, show your child you are interested. At night, tell your child about what you learned today or, what ugly or funny thing happened to you at work. Then, ask your child what they played today, what funny thing happened today at Preschool. It always works better when you share “your stuff” before asking your child to tell you something.
Some people say it is counterproductive to stay at Pre-K with your child because it is like telling them you don’t believe they can do it on their own. I would say this may be right for some children, but they are not all the same. I do believe your child will be more self-confident if he or she sees you are involved with the plan you made together and you keep your promises.

In my opinion, leaving a child crying at preschool when he or she does not want to be there, maybe the best thing you can do as a grown up, but it is certainly NOT “reassurance” for some children, it can undermine their self-confidence. Some 4-year-old children are just not ready to face the world on their own yet; at this young age, they need to follow their parents’ model and have them on their side to support them.

Think long term, what do you want your child to feel when he or she remembers this Reluctance-to-Preschool Stage. We, humans, keep all our memories stored in our brains, even those from early childhood; and he or she may have the same feeling when they get into Junior High, College, or in a new super important job. Ask yourself: what do you want them to feel and remember when are all grownups feeling shy, scared, anxious, or reluctant during a transition phase?

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