Preschool Jitters: How To Ease Your Child's Common Anxieties
Separation anxiety, tears, worries and (irrational) fears at drop off time are common preschool feelings that most young ones go through at this age. Suddenly not feeling well in the morning before school (the common tummy ache symptom) or throwing a tantrum is usual in young children, usually due to a school-related fear. But if being a mother has taught me anything, it’s that a little patience goes a much longer way than losing your cool and succumbing to pressure in a shouting match.
Try these tips to help your child feel less worried and more excited about preschool:
Anxiety, worries and fears
Preschoolers don’t really have a sense of time yet, so they often fear being away from their parents or that no one will come to pick them up from school and take them back home (even if sometimes that is VERY tempting!!).
Ease your child’s fears by acknowledging their fear, explaining why going to preschool is important, and that you can’t wait to see them at home again later in the day. If you can, play ‘separation games’ such as peek-a-boo to help reinforce that you will always return after leaving. If your parents or in-laws are going to be the ones picking up your child from preschool, ease the transition by introducing small doses of separation away from you - do practice runs and get your little one to spend a few hours with them at their house.
Children slowly start to get more comfortable with spending time away from you because they'll know that you will return when you said that you would; and they will also start having a good time without you.
Tip: Pack a stuffed animal, blanket, or another special object for the preschool so that your child is comforted by it and doesn’t miss home as much.
Don’t draw out the goodbyes
Despite wanting to smother your little toddler with lots of hugs and kisses at drop off time, keep the goodbyes affectionate but brief, with a clear promise about what time you (or someone else) will be back to pick them up. The longer the goodbye takes (especially if it’s teary), the more traumatic it can be for a child. If your child is more clingy with you, than with your helper, spouse or grandparents, consider switching the caregiver who does drop-off.
One of my twins was always quite clingy at goodbye time (apparently he even tried escaping out of the school window a couple of mornings as he saw the car pull away), but then calmed down quite quickly once I wasn’t in sight anymore.
Some advice: Even if it’s tempting to sneak away while your child is distracted to avoid more tears, don't ever leave without saying goodbye properly. Otherwise you risk having your child feeling like they can't trust you and you’ll end up feeling like crap the whole day too. Give them one big hug and pull the goodbye bandaid off quickly and in one go.
Being shy is common in preschoolers (aren’t some of us still quite shy as fully grown adults too?)
Kids with social anxiety often feel intensely scrutinized and worry that they'll do something embarrassing or say something silly and get laughed at. Starting preschool is a big step for little toddlers as they leave their familiar and safe home and family, even for a few hours. Not surprisingly, some children can feel anxious about being alone and be intimidated by the new building, classroom, teachers and even the other children.
Remember, anxiety is a combination of fear, worry, and nervousness, so listen intently to your child’s fears and give them a big hug as often as they need it, and oodles of time to settle down at their own pace.
Learning lag and late bloomers
All children develop differently at different speeds and times. I have identical twins, but they could well be two different siblings with their development goalposts and timelines! Whatever the case is, it’s critical to not compare your child with others and to reassure him that he will also be able to read and write when he’s ready. When your child sees his classmates being able to do something that he still can’t, he may lose his confidence and feel like he’s not good for preschool, so take the pressure off your child by telling him that being at preschool is also about making friends, learning how to communicate and having fun.
It’s not the same potty
Most toddlers are already potty trained by the time they start preschool. But even then, it is not uncommon for potty-trained kids to regress when they start going to preschool, just because the potty is different to what they are used to at home. Be patient. Sending the potty to school from home is usually not a practical option, so it’s not like you have many choices in the matter. Don’t get angry and force your child to use the toilet at school as he would at home. Instead, give him some time and as he settles down at school and becomes less anxious, the potty issues will evaporate too.