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As we complete our second week back-to-school, you may have noticed some changes in your child’s behavior. Going back to school can bring on a variety of emotions in our little ones and we can help them understand those emotions, express their emotions, and cope with those emotions through play, reading stories, and conversation.
Set the Routine
Did you know that providing your child with a predictable routine is developing their social emotional development? Research shows that when children have routines we are helping to construct the building blocks of self-regulation and good mental health. Think about how many opportunities you have to set a routine in the morning before school. Everything you do before school can be put into a Morning Routine but even within that you can have a getting dressed routine, a breakfast routine, and a routine in the car ride over to school. When a child knows what to expect they feel safe; providing a routine that is relatively the same every single day with help your child feel safe and empowered. As your child learns the routine, they will want to be more helpful and independent with the things they can do!
Send Good Vibes
Saying goodbye at the beginning of the school year or after a holiday break can be hard on both the child and the parent at drop-off times. How a parent says goodbye can also make a big difference. The sneak-away approach might be easier in the moment but that is not teaching your child the good social emotional skills they need for later in life. If you disappear on your child they may end up feeling more alone in the long run. Spending too much time lingering around to say goodbye just prolongs the amount of time you are both feeling badly about saying goodbye and our children are also very intuitive to what pulls our heart strings. A better approach would be to begin to say goodbye in the car ride. Talking about the day, what expectations your child might have, how you will always come back to get them are all good conversations to have before you even get out of the car. Talking to your child on the car ride about how you are feeling about sending them to school for the day can be a great way to show your child how you think through your feelings. Modeling how to work through your emotions is a skill that will benefit your child at other tough times of adolescence and adulthood. Once you arrive at school, giving your child a hug and kiss as you are helping them out of the car seat is a natural way of giving them love before the tears start. Putting your child down on the ground and having them hold your hand is also easier on the parent-child relationship than feeling like your child is being torn from your arms when it’s time to go. Try to say the same thing at every drop-off, “I will be back after your afternoon snack!” or “Have a great day, I’ll see you soon!” Then at pick-up you can remind your child, “See, you had snack and then I was here!” so that your child can develop a sense of reassurance in your words.
Let’s Find Mommy
Having a picture of mommy, daddy, or other family members at school can give students the security and a little smile. Having a picture around can open up communication avenues between your child and their caregivers. If your classroom teacher has not asked for a family picture or for individual pictures of family members, you can put together a simple photo album for your child to keep at school. Sharing your intentions with the teacher to provide a tangible way for your child to work through sad emotions might even provoke a class-wide family activity!
Read to Me
Reading at home as a child is the biggest predictor of educational success in children. What ethnicity you are, how much higher education a guardian has or how much money a family has doesn’t put a kid in college the same way reading a bedtime story does. Reading in itself is such a beneficial way to engage with your child in dialogue, develop social emotional skills, communication skills, bonding, higher level thinking, and imagination. I could go on-and-on but I’ll save that for another blog. There are so many books available for preparing a child to go to school. Chances are you can even find your child’s favorite character going off to school. Reading a book to your child as part of your bedtime or morning time routine is a great way to kill two birds with one stone.
If you are anticipating that your child is having a difficult time separating for a full-day or half-day program, you may want to start with shorter outings before school even starts. Your child might be used to having you around all the time so beginning with smaller increments of time away can help when your child is left at school for 4 or more hours. You might start off by leaving your child with someone while you go for a walk around your neighborhood, then extend the time you are gone by going shopping and finally go on an adult date for several hours. All of these are opportunities for you and your child to practice the routine of saying goodbye and working through your feelings.
A Step Back
Don’t worry if you’ve finally got a hold on your routine, you’ve been reading, your child is happy, and then out of nowhere a total meltdown at drop-off. It is completely normal for kids to experience occasional regression. Talk to your child’s teacher about what you have noticed and see if the teacher has any insight as to what might be different. Communicate with your child’s teacher when things in the routine are changed, sometimes it’s the simplest thing that makes a huge difference. Work together to give a little extra emotional support during these times.
Off to Work
For older preschoolers, having a sense of independence and importance helps to develop self-confidence. You can turn things within your routines into jobs and you can begin teaching your child that school is their job. Talking about your own job and what your thought are on work ethic, responsibility, and how good it feels to accomplish your job begins the foundation for what you and a future boss will expect from your child later.
Remember that play is a child’s work and many skills are developing in their early years that make them the adults they will be. Preschool play is the most important work of a child. Help your child enjoy preschool by teaching them how to say goodbye and love the rest of their day!
References Center on Social and Emotional Foundations for Early Learning, Resources: Family Tools, http://csefel.vanderbilt.edu/resources/family.html
Education World, The More Books at Home, The Higher the Child’s Education, 9/8/10, https://www.educationworld.com/a_issues/chat/chat265.shtml
What to Expect, 8 Smart Ways to Ease Daycare and Preschool Separation Anxiety, 2/14/19, https://www.whattoexpect.com/toddler/photo-gallery/ease-daycare-and-preschool-separation-anxiety.aspx
Zero to Thrive, The Importance of Routines for Kids, 3/31/20 https://zerotothrive.org/routines-for-kids/