Is your child emotionally ready for preschool?

Going to preschool does come with some emotions, for both the parent and the child. Remember: this too shall pass!

With the festive holidays just around the corner, now might be a good time to start thinking about whether your toddler is ready for preschool next year.

Most children start preschool when they’re three, turning four, and it’s a big step for both parent and child. It’s difficult for many parents to let go of their “baby” and prepare her for “the big world”; and it‘s equally difficult for children to let go of their “baby” days and face the challenge of going to preschool.

Most parents send their children to a playgroup two to three days a week or to a preschool five days a week from the age of two to three years. Some parents have no choice but to send their children to preschool because both parents work. Whatever your reason for sending your child to preschool, the most important thing is how you prepare yourself and your child for the transition.

Common worries parents have

Every parent wants an easy, smooth life for their little one, and sending your child into a new environment without you can be daunting. Most parents worry about the following:

  • Did I do a good enough job with my child?
  • Did I teach her the right skills?
  • Did I prepare her enough?
  • Did I help her develop self-confidence?
  • Does she have good social skills?
  • Will she be accepted?
  • Will she cope without me?
  • Will she be able to handle the challenges of life?
  • Who will look after her in the same way I do?

Dealing with your own fear and anxiety

High feelings of anxiety can cloud the experience and be overwhelming for parents and children. Uncertain and fearful parents can transfer these feelings onto their children without even knowing it. Children watch their parents carefully to learn from them, so parents are their most important role models for how to cope with new challenges. For parents to understand how best to help their child with the transition, they must first understand more about the world of the child, which mainly consists of play and the language of play.

How to get your child ready for preschool

Children explore and discover their world through play. They learn about their physical surroundings, their capabilities and limitations, social rules, and the difference between fantasy and reality. Children make sense of their world and discover how to problem-solve and be in control of their fears and anxieties through play. The best way to deal with your child’s anxiety and excitement about what to expect in his new environment is to talk about it and to play out what’s most likely to happen. Explain where she’s going and what she’ll be doing, putting emphasis on the things she may enjoy doing most.

Most schools have open days, so take her to the school and show her around, pointing out the classroom, playground, where you’ll drop her off, and where you’ll fetch her. Tell her what you’ll be doing while she’s at school. Do not tell her how much you’ll miss her and that you don’t know what you’re going to do with yourself while she’s not there. She needs to feel relaxed about you, too, so show her you’re confident that both of you will cope well. Remember that the more confidence you have in her ability to cope, the better she will cope. And a great way of getting the message across is through structured doll play.

What is structured doll play?

Doll play is a lively way of storytelling for parents to help children who are feeling anxious or insecure. It provides a brief and specific experience for the child to prepare her for anxiety-provoking experiences. It’s similar to reading a story, but the major difference is that you create the story and play it out with dolls or soft-toy animals representing the family.

The story involves real-life characters, such as Mom, Dad, your child, and the teacher. Give every doll/animal the real-life character’s name, and give your story a title like “The day Katie went to school for the first time”. Play out the story by acting from the beginning where everyone’s getting up and ready for school. Mom, Dad, and Katie get in the car and drive to school. Bring in sound effects for the movement of the car and so on, and go into detail about what happens when you get there, say goodbye, and when you come to collect her.

Make the story as realistic as possible, but don’t bring in emotions, because the purpose of the story is to prepare your child by bringing down the level of emotions like fear and anxiety. It’s best to start with the structured doll play one to two days before the first school day, and especially the evening before school starts. Play out the second day for your child as well. If she wants to contribute to the story, say “Let me just finish my story, and then you can play out your story”. You can also use doll play to play out any issue you think your child will be anxious or uncertain about, like asking for something or going to the toilet.  

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