Tips for easing your toddler into preschool

It's hard to believe my Little Dude has stepped out into the world, so to speak, as he recently joined preschool. He's three and a half, and at an age where he definitely seeks interaction with other children and finds it 'boring' to be at home sometimes!

I expected many changes as the first day of preschool approached, but we had been preparing ourselves for it for many weeks. It wasn't just him, but us who needed to be mentally prepared too. I knew there would be changes in routine, and perhaps, behavioural challenges too. But we hoped for the best, and are doing far better now than I thought we would.

My tips for helping toddlers into preschool are best suited for kids who have never been in daycare or demonstrate separation anxiety. But almost all toddlers (they not even be 'toddlers' by then) experience a few hiccups as they enter the preschool stage. I use the term 'preschool' loosely to describe schooling which involves some organised activities and learning.

Six tips to help ease your toddler into preschool.

Here are some of the things you can do to ease your toddler into preschool:

1. Talk about it

Your toddler probably won't understand the concept of 'school' at first, so choose your words wisely when you talk about it. Focus on the positives - about the things they will learn, and the games they will play. You don't have to hide the fact that you won't be there with them, but mention it in a positive context.You can read books about starting school or talk about a sibling or a friend who goes to school.

2. Get familiar with the place

Use every opportunity to visit the preschool you have chosen. Show your child around the place, and talk to the people they will be meeting every day. Encourage them to ask questions. Show them as much of the place as you can, including the play area, lunch area, and the toilets. We visited our school about 4 to 5 times with our toddler before he started, so it wasn't an unfamiliar place to him.

3. Use role play

Check with the teacher about what their schedule is generally like, and play school with your toddler at home. Tell them about things like circle time and group activities, so they know what to expect. Get a copy of the curriculum and talk to them about what they will be doing the following day. It gives them something to look forward to, and share any worries. For instance, some toddlers are not comfortable with messy play, and you can discuss this with their teacher. If there are certain things they don't want to participate in, talk to the teacher about letting them sit it out.

4. Be flexible

The best way to transition your toddler into the preschool environment is to work closely with the school. Talk to them beforehand about all possible scenarios that concern you, and how you expect them to deal with it. Remember, you know your child best, and it will take the teacher a week or two to understand their personality. Talk to the school about allowing you a flexible schedule to drop and pick up the child until he or she has settled down.

5. Don't sneak out

No matter what you're told, don't leave without saying goodbye and giving a hug, if needed. Tell them repeatedly that you will be back. Don't leave a child who is obviously hysterical because that may create negative association with school and worsen separation anxiety. Sometimes, it is okay to leave a child who is only protesting and not crying if you know it is only due to your presence. But in the end, you know your child best and can gauge if they will be okay or not. Stick around, or call up the school a little later to see how they are doing.

6. Be prepared for regression

Your toddler may surprise you and begin school like a champ, but it's quite possible that they may refuse to go in a few days. Many children don't take well to the new routine and miss their loss of 'freedom', but if you feel that preschool is best for your child, stick with it. Try not to skip school because of meltdowns, but try to calm them as much as possible (read my tips for calming a toddler). You may even find that an unpleasant experience may put them off school. In such cases, try to find the root cause of anxiety and address it directly with the teacher.

Above all, be relaxed! Your anxiety could pass on to your child, so try to be calm and stay focused on the good times ahead.

If you haven't decided on the school yet, check out my tips for choosing the right preschool.

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