It's back to school season, and for some schools, like Sinai Akiba's ECC, it's back to school in-person time. With COVID-19 making things a bit of a challenge, having a solid goodbye routine for parents and children is going to be more important than ever. Fortunately, Sinai Akiba's own counselors, Daisy Perez and Justine Roach, LCSW, are here with 10 super helpful tips for parents.
Early childhood is a time of both new beginnings and risks. The relationship between child and parents is essential to early development. Preschool may be one of the first opportunities for your child to grow emotionally, socially, and cognitively and separate from their primary caregiver. What a gift!
During this transition to preschool, your relationship with your child will change and continue to strengthen. Additionally, through communication such as signals and responses, children and caregivers continually influence and regulate one another’s internal states and behaviors.
As you and your child begin your transition into preschool (for some parents, it may be their second or third transition), here are several tips to consider.
1. Establish a Routine.
Children thrive on routines, consistency, and stability. They may fight them, but they really do better when they know what is coming. You can write, draw, or print photos of the activities of your child’s routine. For example, wake-up in the morning and go potty, brush your teeth, have breakfast, take your backpack and lunch, walk to school or get in the car, hug and kiss goodbye in the garage, and mommy/daddy picks you up after the goodbye circle. Make sure to create a routine with your child. It can be a fun family activity!
2. Transitional objects.
Transitional objects provide a sense of security and are usually items that are soft like a blanket or a teddy bear. It is an object that your child has a meaningful connection with and offers them comfort when they are not with you. It is a concept that was developed by D.W. Winnicott (1953) and you can find additional information here
Use social stories and photos that your child’s teachers post on your school’s internal portal (at Sinai Akiba, we call it JAGnet) to guide you in a conversation with your child about school. You can take a look at photos on the portal and say, “Oh, look here. Tell me about what you were working on.” If you have a brochure from your school that talks about your child's classroom and teachers, (at Sinai Akiba, we call it a social story), you can have a discussion with your child about the different areas of the school such as their classroom or playground, etc. You can then continue to expand on your child’s experience by asking questions such as, “What do you think you will want to do tomorrow at school when you enter the classroom?”
4. Nonverbal and verbal communication.
Communication is an important part of relationships. What kind of communicator are you? What about your child? Some people communicate nonverbally through signals and responses. Your facial expressions, tone of voice, signals, and responses are forms of communication. On the other hand, some parents will verbally share with their children how they are feeling. This is another form of communication.
The bottom line is your children pick up on your feelings whether it is communicated nonverbally or verbally. Your child sees your excitement, ambivalence, or fears and picks up on your internal states and behaviors. They are observing and listening! Feel free to say, “We are so excited for you to go to school. I can’t wait to hear how your day went when I pick you up after the goodbye circle.”
Get to know your child’s classmates and other families by scheduling playdates. The rule of thumb for playdates is to keep it small initially (one other classmate) and try to keep it at even numbers as much as possible. For example, two or four children at a time.
However, given the pandemic, it might be wise to keep it small for now. The important thing about playdates is that you and your child get to know each other and for your child to become more familiar with the other children. Keep playdates short; 20-30 minutes is more than enough time for a playdate, and remember to plan a time that is not when your child is tired, hungry, or agitated.
Your children aren't the only ones going through a change, either. Here are 5 tips on how to ease your own transition:
1. Establish a routine.
This is equally as important for adults as it is for children. Once you drop off your child, what will you do? Give yourself a schedule, if it helps, or have a list of activities or errands you may want to tackle before picking up your child.
2. Call a Friend
It is important to process your feelings with others and develop a support team. This may sound like a no brainer, but it is extremely important to talk about your feelings. Perhaps, you feel like maybe it is too much for your child or too much for you. It’s okay. Call a friend and share your thoughts. Call a school administrator or school counselor to help you in this process. You don’t like talking about your feelings? No problem. You can write it down. Starting a journal is another way to process your thoughts. Wouldn’t it be awesome to document your own and your child’s preschool transition and then look back at it 20 years from now? Remember, you are not alone!
3. Be Kind to Yourself.
Your children have been home for quite some time and it is important to remember that they will miss you and their old routines. Change can sometimes be difficult and it is not a reflection of you as a parent if your child begins to feel angry with you or they are not transitioning as quickly as you anticipated. Remember, every child is different and every parent is different. It is okay to not always have the answer, know what to do, or be able to help your child. Be kind to yourself and your child. Transitioning into school or back to school is a process!
4. Crying is a form of expression.
Often individuals who are upset, angry, or even ecstatic will cry. Crying is a form of expressing one’s feelings. Thus, consider this as part of a common way for your child to express that they will miss you, are confused, are angry, are happy, are looking forward to seeing you soon again. What about you, the parent? Crying is common, too! It’s a way for you to recognize that perhaps you are having a difficult time with your child transitioning into preschool, or that you are feeling excited!
Remember, your child is resilient and will be safe with their teachers. If you have any questions or concerns, you can always contact your child’s teachers, administrators, or school counselors. At Sinai Akiba, those counselors are Daisy Perez and Justine Roach.
5. Try Something New
Have you been missing going for a run alone? Perhaps, you’ve been holding off on starting a new audiobook until the kids go to bed. No need to wait any longer. This is the time in which you can engage in self-care and take care of yourself by starting up a new activity or project that you have been meaning to start but couldn’t get yourself to do.
How are you coping with back to school?
Change, including school transitions, can be challenging. There are several emotions that we experience before, during, and after the change. Some people may experience anticipatory anxiety just thinking about what is to come. Perhaps, your mind starts to think of everything you will have to do before that day comes. Others may begin to want to spend more time with their significant other or child. All of these things are normal! It is important to remember that you can take a breath or practice mindfulness (being in the present moment without judgment) to allow your mind to relax and think logically.
It is essential to remember that whatever anxiety or feelings you are experiencing your child will pick up on and mirror those same behaviors and responses. What about practicing gratitude? Identifying what you are grateful for and showing others your gratitude elevates your mood and it can be a powerful tool to alleviate your anxiety. You can write yourself a list, write a thank-you card, send a thank-you email, or call someone to share your gratitude.
If you have additional concerns, you can reach out to your child’s teachers, administrators, or school counselors to support you in this process.