Sending your child to kindergarten is a hard period of transition. However below are some tips for a smooth integration.
One of the hardest moments I had to experience as a mother, was the separation phase from my son when he entered kindergarten when he was a year and a half old. I don’t think anything could have prepared me for letting him go. On his first day, Christopher George took one look at the slides and swings in the kindergarten playground, popped down from my hands, went playing and never looked back. It took me exactly three days to complete the integration phase. Instead of leaving me with relief, it left me all wondering what I did wrong? Is he not attached to me enough? Am I a bad mother? Doesn’t he love me? I had all kinds of senseless questions. Eventually, I found all my answers and that made me proud of both him and myself.
Last week, it was the turn of my younger son Michael James to start kindergarten. I relived all those anxious feelings again and reminded myself that preparation of both the parent and the child makes all the difference.
Tips for a smooth integration
Early visit. Visit the premises with your child beforehand. Look around, check the slides and play together on the swings. Offer your child the chance to get to know the environment.
First day. Aim for only a couple of hours the first day, during which you are 100% present at your child’s side. During this visit, encourage your child to explore the place and interact with other children.
Following days. The idea is to progressively allow the kindergarten teacher to take care of your child while you step out of the picture bit by bit. This could happen during key times, such as lunch, nap and diaper change. Allow the helper to feed your child, or offer the chance for the nurse to make him fall asleep at nap time while you stand next to her. Just before it was time for me to step out of the room, I sat down and turned my back to Michael James; I was sneaking at him through the mobile phone mirror, he was doing great alone and that was my cue to leave the room and step into the next stage.
I’m coming back. Before D-Day, practice saying “I’m coming back to get you” so when you say it on D-Day he has already heard it and understood that you are not abandoning him for good.
Don’t sneak away. Make a point of saying good-bye. Do it confidently and your child will soon do the same. Do not sneak away; this will highly affect their trust in you and eventually their confidence in themselves. Instead, introduce a new parting ritual — such as a high-five, or saying something like, "I'll be back to get you soon, long before we see the moon", or use my cue “see you later, alligator!” Do this each time you drop him off.
Don’t run back. When it's time for you to say goodbye, explain carefully that you're about to go and you'll be back to pick them up later. Don't start to leave and then get drawn back by tears and a trembling lip.
Comfort object. If he likes a teddy bear, let him have it. Most institutions encourage this, much like bringing his own cup, blanket or pillow, this will help your child to position himself in the new environment easily.
One to one. In big settings in which the number of teachers can be rather large, ask for one person to focus on your child for the first couple of weeks. He/ she will soon feel comfortable with all the others but starting with one is much easier and much less chaotic from your child’s perspective.
Sleeping and eating schedule. If your child’s sleeping or eating schedule does not match the one at the daycare, keep your same schedule and your child will soon adopt the new one with time. Tell the teacher the sleeping habits or cues, which might help her put your child to sleep, and let her know about any eating habits so she can follow the same track.
Be on time. Collect your child at the same time each day, especially at the initial stage. Their biological clock will warn them and this will help your child’s trust in you and make them feel secure.
Play dates. Arrange times for your child to play with other children before and after starting kindergarten. He will be much more comfortable around people if he is used to being part of a group.
Take pictures. Take pictures of the place and of your child and show your relatives and friends when your child is present and get all excited about it.
Enjoy. Your child copies your behavior. So if you want them to have fun, start by having a good time! Play with other children, smile at the educational and support staff and try to enjoy this experience. Be happy, anxiety is contagious!
On a personal level
Be organized. On the first day of school, there is no time to sign a paper at the last minute or find that t-shirt you wanted your child to wear. Prepare yourself the night before, pack your child’s bag and decide on your own clothes as well.
Label. Label items such as the cup, the clothes, the diaper bag etc. This will help the educational team to use the objects that are familiar to him/her.
Early rise. Wake up earlier than you should and aim for a rush-free morning. This is good for you and for your child. Kids can pick up on your mood, so if you're nervous and anxious on that day, they will likely take on your attitude.
Day plan. Do not plan anything else for that day or during the first few days of daycare. If you are a working mom like me, take half days off and be totally available.
Talk to yourself. Mind talking is very helpful in these stressful situations. As a parent you already know that this is one of the most important stages of your child’s development and the first step towards independence and life in general.
- Tell yourself you have to let go, “it is for my child’s own sake.”
- Ask yourself is it you who is finding it hard or is it really your child?
- What if he cried a bit? Most children will cool down right after you
- You will never find anyone who can take care of your child better than Stop looking for “yourself” in each kindergarten teacher and helper. Once you choose the right establishment for your child, put some trust in them.
- Remember, they will phone you if all hell broke loose!
Put on a brave face. With your attitude, you are modeling how your child should feel and look at the new experience ahead. So chin up, hide your tears and then go around the block and weep if you must.
This is an exciting stage for your child and you will learn to embrace it and enjoy it! Remember there are some amazing times ahead and so much to look forward to!