Wednesday, August 25, 2010

End Of Summer Panic: Preschool Transition Is Looming!

The first day of preschool with their best buddy
The start of the school year is right around the corner. At this time last year I was pretty nervous as our children were going to be starting preschool for the first time. In particular, I was really worried about how my very sensitive son who really loved his mommy was going to deal with the transition. I was also stressed out about how I was going to handle it! In theory, I loved the idea of having a few hours to myself while knowing that the kids were safe and happy; but the reality of it was that I was also sad that they were beginning to have a life without me, where they would be doing things and experiencing things that I had no part of. They were starting to be children and not babies anymore. 

Nevertheless, they were starting school and we, as a family, were going to be prepared for it. You may be familiar with my need for being prepared by now...I approached preschool the same way I approach most things in life: I researched, I picked people's brains, I read books and then I attacked the problem. 

Before School Begins:
    Great book for discussing school transition
  • As I wrote recently in the post Toddler Sleep Battles, I think books are an amazing way to help children with any type of change in their lives from traveling somewhere new to potty training or even starting school. The best book we found is called "Llama Llama Misses Mama" and it's about a little llama going to school for the first time and being sad that mommy isn't there. In the end he learns that mommy always comes back and that he can love school and mommy. This book was a HUGE hit in our house (and we subsequently bought the other two in the series). Although we always used the phrase "mommy (or daddy) always comes back" whenever we left them, this drove that message home in a way that they could connect to.
  • The second thing we did was to make sure we were able to connect with other families whose children would be in the same class as our kids and made a few play dates before school started. This allowed our children to feel as though they already knew a couple of kids on the first day. Plus, it allowed us to get to know some of the other parents as well and we were able to really bond before those hectic days of rushing through drop off and pick up. Continue the play dates as school continues, this can only help. Additionally, before the start of school, our school director arranged an in-school play date for all the families. The class was broken up into small groups and a half an hour/45-minute play time was arranged in the actual classroom. This allowed the kids to get to know the other children as well as to get more familiar with the class and the teachers.
  • Me, making the kids' scrapbooks
  • The third thing that we did before school started was to make a book for each of our twins about themselves. This idea was actually given to me by our fabulous preschool director. Each child in the class had one so that when they got homesick the teachers could pull it out and let them see it; additionally, it gave the teachers some insight into who each child was. The book included pages titled: "This is my family", "This Summer I....", "After school I like to:", "My favorite things", and "When I am at school Mommy and Daddy..." (what Mommy and Daddy do all day). I loved making these books and I do encourage you to make a separate one for each child....they are not the same person, they need their own book. I went a little overboard and spent weeks making mine with photos and collage and all sorts of crazy scrapbooking stuff, but really you can make it simple; the kids will love seeing photos of grandma and grandpa or their best friend or their dog. You can buy an inexpensive ring binder and make it that way or a photo book through Shutterfly or Kodak Gallery if you like. If your preschool isn't set up in a way where you can leave the books for your children at school, it is still great to read to them each morning before go or each night before bed. A second book can be made once the kids start school (or if you're able to get photos of the classroom and play yard ahead of time). This book is all about what the kids will be doing every day and how much fun it will be. 
  •  My little man with his new lunchbox
  • The last thing we did (and the most superficial, but still helpful) was to buy each a few new clothes and a new lunch box. The clothes were mostly for our daughter who is very visual and gets excited about putting new things together. The lunch boxes were exciting to them because they only get to use them for school and they felt like big kids carrying them and showing them off. 
Once School Starts:
  • The first day will be different at each school. In some ways transitioning is easier if you are in school 5 days a week or 3 consecutive days; we were doing a M,W,F program so it was a lot harder on the kids to have the days off and then go back to transitioning again. Bear that in mind when you start. Hopefully you have been told by your school how they handle transition. Some allow parents to transition out slowly, others do it right away. There are different theories behind each method and different methods work better for some children (and some parents). I will say, in my experience, it is almost always the parents who have the harder time. The kids may be screaming but once you're gone, they are over it and move on to playing again. At our school the transition was slow and the director and staff was very involved with each family and allowed each to move at their own pace. I was one of the last to leave and they were quite patient with me. In retrospect, I could have gone sooner, but I really appreciated that they heard what I needed and supported me and then, when it was time, they pushed me out of the door. 
  • Start the day off by not carrying your child into the classroom. Ask them to walk, holding your hand if they wish. Explain that they are not babies anymore and that big kids who go to school know how to walk. You will have to judge for yourself and based on your family dynamics if this works for you. For some kids, especially those with new baby siblings, the idea of being a big kid is not appealing. But more often than not, this approach works and they are very proud to walk into school carrying their lunchbox to put in their cubby.
  • Our very sensitive son seemed much more at ease than our previously fearless daughter. She clung to me like a barnacle and cried inconsolably. The more you engage with your child in a situation like that, the more they will not be able to bond with the teachers and learn that there is someone else who can fulfill their needs. It is so difficult, but my best advice, if you are staying in the classroom, is that you need to make yourself as boring as possible. Bring magazines, books, work from the office and try to only peek at them when they're not looking. When they ask you for something, direct them to the teachers. In many ways it would have been easier to leave immediately because I have so much empathy for my kids (and being ignored is a major trigger for me) that behaving like this is antithetical to me; but they began to understand that mommy was there, but I was "busy" and Miss Kelly and Miss Sivan were kind and loving and there to help. This also allows the kids to really engage in all of the wonderful things going on at school. It's hard not to join in at circle time because we're all so used to doing Mommy and Me classes, but this is where the kids get to experience things with their new friends and teachers; hang back and observe.
  • Daddy at work
  • Talk about what mommy and daddy do when the kids are at school. If they're used to you both going to work it will be a little easier for them but if, like me, you are a stay-at-home parent, it is a little trickier. I was truthful and told them I would be running errands and going to yoga class (well, maybe that was less-than truthful) and maybe seeing a friend. But I also spoke to them about how I was doing things that had to do with them, reminding them that I was always thinking about them even when I wasn't with them; I would talk about how I had to go to the market to buy pudding (they love pudding) or how I was going to be setting up the train table so it would be ready to be played with when they got home etc. 
  • Many children do well with bringing a favorite lovey or blankey from home. It's risky because he or she may end up misplacing it but sometimes that familiar piece of home is all that well help your child. I decided to take a cue from a story my sister-in-law told me about when she first started school. I wrote about this before but it bears repeating: when she first started school her mother helped her get over her fears by drawing a heart on her wrist each morning so that every time she felt scared, she could look down and know mom was thinking of her. This ritual continued as she grew older; although it was no longer every day, if my sister in law went through a tough period in high school, had stressful days in college, took exams, had interviews, there was the heart. When their mother passed away, my sister-in-law had a hand-drawn heart tattooed on the inside of her wrist to always remind her that her mother was thinking of her. I loved this story and did something similar. It's important, if you do this, to tell them the story each time you draw the heart or give them the keepsake item, so that it is really a part of the ritual. My kids were enthralled each time I gave them the little trinkets of mine that I let them wear at school. 
  • Often it is easier for dads or nannies to drop the children at school as the kids will separate easier from them than from mom. If this is the case in your family, it might be a good idea to arrange that set-up for the first week or so.
  • If your child is crying during the first days when you leave, please know that this is really normal. It's really hard to hear, but it's normal. Our school was really wonderful about calling me to let me know that everything was just fine (usually this was within 10 minutes of my leaving which just shows the old adage "out of sight, out of mind" to be true).  
  • Remember that your children will adjust and then, for seemingly no reason at all, they will suddenly have periods where it's hard to let you go again. Patience and communication with your school is key during these times. 
  • First day of school, playing together in the kitchen
  • Keep in mind that having your co-twin in your class is a benefit most of the other children aren't going to experience. Your children at least have one other person with whom they already feel comfortable; that should ease your mind a little. Be wary of their twin dynamic as school starts though; keep an eye on whether one is becoming the boss of the other or if they are only playing together. If your school isn't used to handling twins, give them some pointers on individuation (check out my post Getting To Know You for some helpful ideas). 
Change of any sort can be hard on all of us. Try to keep your own anxiety in check as kids easily pick up on it. Be aware of what you need to feel at ease (I needed the school to let me know they had stopped crying....otherwise I obsessed about it for the full three hours) and ask for it if it's not offered. At the end of the day, you know your child and if, like mine, when you pick them up after a few hours and they don't want to come home....you know they're happy. 
Good luck with the transition, I hope this post helps a bit.  

Thanks for reading!
-Gina
The Twin Coach

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5 Great Comments Made By Clicking Here!:

Christina Simon said...

This is a really insightful post! My daughter sobbed so hard she threw up the first week of school. And, we had done a mommy and me at the preschool. Still, it was a HARD transition, but once it was over, we moved on and loved the school. My son also had a tough transition. He sobbed when I left the room. That lasted about 2 weeks. I was a wreck, but I knew I was making the right decision for my kids and they have benefitted tremendously from their preschool experiences. To all the moms out there, I think preschool transition is a right of passage as a mom!

Steven Brogden said...

This is a few years away for me, but this post is going in the file. Another great post!

BTW, I don't know how you have time to do so much reading and research.

Anonymous said...

I just came across this post! What great timing since I am figuring out where to register my son for this Fall. He will be almost 4 when he starts. I'm finding that the majority of preschools do not allow the parent to stay during the transition period, but require a drop-off and leave. I am really not happy about that. Do you think it's a reason to eliminate a preschool? I can't imagine leaving my son with a virtual stranger and telling him that I can't stay.

Thanks for any advice! Miranda

The Twin Coach said...

Hi Miranda,
I wish I could email you directly, but I hope you subscribed to comments by email so you get this. In my opinion, YES, not having a transition period could be a reason to eliminate a preschool. Unless your child is used to being left at day care while mom/dad goes off to work each day, the transition to preschool can be a huge one. Usually it is much harder for parents than children, but it is still tough for the kids. Seeing as your son will be almost 4, he can cognitively understand a lot more than a 2 year old would (mine were 2.5 when they started) but you can't always expect a child to just settle in to a new situation.

Staying TOO long during transition makes it harder for your child, but I think allowing your son to develop a sense of trust for the new people who will be caring for him is only fair. It took me 3 weeks (3 days a week) to fully transition. I was the last one out of there. Partly it was because I am so empathic & it is so hard for me to see my kids having trouble, but I can't imagine choosing a school that would not allow me to have transition period of any sort.

Additionally, having that time in the beginning really allowed me to see how the teachers handled the kids, what the kids did each day, who the kids played with etc. so I could easily talk with my kids at home if they were feeling apprehensive. I have issues with any place that has such hard & fast rules -- every family is different & every family has a different pace as far as a transition goes. Perhaps they are saying no because of his age, but may be open to allowing you to have a few days to make it a smooth transition? I"m with you on the "leaving my kid with a stranger" thing!

If you want to talk about this further, feel free to email me directly at gina@thetwincoach.com
Thanks for your comment!
-Gina

Anonymous said...

Thank you! My twins have 2 more days till their graduation from preschool. I'm dreading it, but know change is good. Thanks for letting us moms know there is more to transitioning from one class to another... Aka home. The twin coach is the best!

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