In my meetings with the principals of many pre-schools, I have heard them voice one major concern, the initial days of the school - the settling blues.
"I dread the first few weeks, the children just don't stop crying. I wish I can do something about it."
"You know it is not the children at all. It is the parents, they don't want to let go off their children. If they don't trust us how will the children."
"In so many years I haven't figured how to solve this issue, I just let it be... it solves itself in few weeks."
Last year even Peace Montessori had a few incidences of anxious settling days. Crying is not only traumatizing for the child, the parent but everyone involved: the teachers and the helping staff as well. Since we are a Montessori we have admissions year long and these incidences of settling blues though teach empathy and compassion to our existing children, they emotionally drain the staff and the parent involved.
This year we decided to do things a little differently. The journey began with first putting into perspective and respecting the fact that it is not easy for anybody to adjust in a new surrounding then how can it be easy for 2 to 3 year old, who in most probability have their first encounter of the unknown surrounding at a preschool... how can it be easy for a parent who in spite of knowing the fact that it is important for the child to go to school is leaving the child in care of complete strangers.
Our source of research was of course the google, conversations with parents and reflection in our own pasts when our children were small...
We knew, the first thing that we had to do was to build an open communication channel of trust with the parents where the parents and the staff were at ease with each other in a non judgmental way with only one goal: the benefit of the child. So we ensured we answered all their concerns tirelessly. We invited the new parents to come to school with the child and spend a few days prior to starting of the school. This we think helped the most, as it put the parents at ease since they had an opportunity to explore the philosophy of the school hands on. Also the child formed a relationship with the staff and the caretaker at the school, which diminished the factor of unknown. Moreover seeing the parent at ease with the school and staff helped the child build trust in the new surrounding.
Come the first day of the school we still didn't know what to expect. To our surprise the children and parents who had accepted our invite were much at ease than those who had not. Though the first day of the school is always filled with anxiety it was much easier as for the child it was now about just making new friends and learning the ropes of play and work....
In our zealousness we tried to implement our strategy after the school had begun with not the same results as the presence of a parent in the classroom does impact the other children and the operations of the classroom as well. But allowing for the same during after school hours has sealed the verdict - "It truly works..."
Some other things that the experts say and we have seen them work are:
- Model the process of going to school with the child multiple times prior going to school
- Talk to the child about your school days. Show them your pictures, tell them about your friends, what you liked at the school...
- Make your goodbyes short
- Be consistent, don't give into to any desires of the child of missing the school unless it is an emergency.
- Do your best in your understanding and don't expect great things. Keeping yourself in check keeps it easy on both you and the child.