And for many kids, going to kindergarten is the first time they’ve ever been in a larger group of children. Some of these kids might be older, and most of them are strangers. The teacher is just an adult the child doesn’t know.
He must follow a tight and more rigorous schedule and, most importantly, this is the first time he’s left his home environment, his house and his parents.
The adjustment period to kindergarten can take from two weeks to one month, but, since every child is different, they also have different rhythms of adjustment.
The 5 biggest problems you’ll encounter when it comes to your child’s adjustment to school or kindergarten are:
1. The child keeps crying. It is a normal reaction, coming from his fear of the unknown, of strange kids, of a new diet. It also comes from the anticipation of all the hours he’ll be spending without you. The child isn’t crying because he doesn’t want to step into the classroom. He’s crying because he doesn’t want to do it without you.
2. He likes the first day, but then he refuses to go. He’s just discovered that things are a bit more serious than at a plain old playdate. Kindergarten has rules and won’t allow him the same freedom he has at home. At the same time, he’s discovering hierarchy and how it feels like to have to share his toys with kids who are more assertive than him.
3. The child discovers that he needs to take care of himself: he has to eat and dress by himself, to not allow other kids to intimidate him, to protect himself, to stand up for himself, to follow a schedule that is coordinated by someone else.
4. The child refuses to take a lunch nap and keeps crying after his mom.
5. The child starts using a different language and his behavior is not necessarily aggressive, but he’s irritable, and it’s harder to get along with him. He’s probably borrowed some of the language and behavior from the other kids in the group. But then, you speak to the teacher and discover that in class, your child is well-behaved, and so are the other children. How can that be explained? Well, what is happening is that he’s “using up” all of his good behavior in kindergarten, so then, at home, he feels the need to overcompensate for all the time he was well behaved. Also, both kindergarten and school are difficult and his reactions could very well be just forms of exhaustion.
Here are 18 suggestions to help your child adjust to school or kindergarten easier.
1. The parents’ attitude. An emotional, nervous, stressed parent will make the child feel the same way he does. You’re already thinking that he’ll be crying and you’re overwhelmed by the feeling. And then there’s that new morning routine and the tight schedule that doesn’t allow any spare time before school. This can also make a parent feel stressed. So the child notices how all these things affect his parents. And, because he doesn’t know what to expect, he gets scared. “Things are only as important as you make them,” my dad used to say. And it’s true. Treat going to kindergarten with calm and enthusiasm, without seeming to pay too much attention to this new stage of your lives. Yes, it’s a big step. But keep it to yourselves.
2. Establish a new routine, both for you and the child. With a new bed time and a new wake up time. On the evening before, try setting aside next day’s clothes and backpack, and decide what you’ll have for breakfast or whether or not you will need to clean your shoes, and, if it rains, just leave an umbrella by the front door. That way, the transition from home to school will be smoother and easier for the child.
3. Kindergarten and school mustn’t mean new habits, but an adjustment to the old ones. For example, if bed time is earlier now, that doesn’t mean that you’ll skip the bed time story. Or family dinner.
4. Involve your child in the decisions you make, so that he feels in control. You’ll also make him feel better about himself and you’ll encourage his independence; let him pick his own backpack, or choose between two different sets of clothes for the next day, or the shoes he wants to wear.
5. Don’t waste time on small things, that will eat up your patience and time. If he wants to go to school wearing different colored socks or in his pajamas, than let him do it. You’ll change his clothes when he gets there anyway, and if he only want to wear these, then so be it. He won’t get a cold, either – you probably already have a jacket prepared.
6. Keep in touch with the teachers, but always talk to them when the child is not present. You don’t have to hide from your child, but if he had a potty accident because he couldn’t make it in time for the toilet, he doesn’t need to be reminded of that, to feel embarrassed.
7. Help your child adjust easier. If you can, then accompany him to kindergarten and wait for him in the hallway for a while, so that the child is aware that he can come to you whenever he feels like it. You’ll see that in 2-3 days, he’ll stop checking up on you, because he’ll be increasingly confident to be with other children by himself.
8. Encourage your child to pick a favorite toy / book / blanket that he will be allowed to go to school or kindergarten with. That way, when he starts missing you, especially during lunch nap time, he’ll just hold onto the familiar object. Buy more of the same kind of toy or book, so that if he loses that one, he’ll have a backup. Children understand what happens when they lose toys, but during this particular time, when he’s more sensitive, try to make sure that he doesn’t lose his special object.
9. On your way to school or kindergarten, try to avoid nagging him about what to do, how to play, how to behave etc. Fill your trip to kindergarten with joyful conversations, on simple, neutral topics. Your child needs you to be calm and to make him feel safe and comfortable. Make your child curios about what will happen in class that day, and, if he’s older, you can talk about what you’ll do together once he gets home.
10. Don’t make fun of him if he cries. And you won’t solve anything if you show him another child, right next to you, who isn’t crying. Kids need empathy, not reason, examples or arguments that only make sense to you. Show empathy and understanding: “I know it’s hard.”
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11. Don’t leave without saying goodbye. He needs to know that you’ll be back for him and he needs a time reference that he can understand: “I’ll pick you up after lunch” or “I’ll be here when you wake up.”
12. In the evening, when you see each other again, don’t nag him with questions. He will eventually tell you about his day, when he feels like it, or after the first few days, when things aren’t so new anymore and he’ll be able to remember them easier.
13. Start a new game on your way home from school. Say: “What was your favorite thing today?” And you both answer the question.
14. Offer him a time when you really listen to him. Maybe in the evening, when you get home. If you start this exercise when the child is in kindergarten, you will probably get to do it until he’s in high school. It will become a habit and that’s great. Because sooner than you expect you’ll have a teenager at home, that you won’t really know anything about, because you never offered him the chance to understand that you care about his schedule, his small activities, and about what is upsetting him.
15. Talk to your child about friendship, about how awesome kindergarten is, and how much better it could be if he made a friend.
16. Since most parents have social media accounts, start a private Facebook group, just for the parents in your child’s class. That way, you’ll get to know each other better and be more aware about what is happening in class. But, most importantly, during these first days you can invite other parents to come to the park or go to a museum with you. You will definitely find 2-3 available parents, and kids are more comfortable in smaller groups, where they can open up easier. You will offer him the chance to make a new friend, which will make his adjustment easier.
17. Read books about kindergarten or school. Your kid will feel better once he understands that he’s not the only one going through this experience. The adventures experienced by the main character, the solutions he finds and the optimistic, cheerful ending will make him feel more confident.
18. Play school or kindergarten at home. Use dolls or stuffed toys to reenact certain situations that he’s currently facing, especially the moment of your separation in the morning. See how he chooses to encourage his toys.
After reading our article, one of our readers made another very good point. We forgot to mention that the parent must offer the child the chance to slowly adjust, and that he should be encouraged by the teacher to spend a few hours a day in class with the child.
Here is what Iustina – who has been living in Germany for a few years and is mother to a little girl who just stared going to daycare – told us:
I also know that it is hard to take a 2 week leave for this, but I believe that our children deserve everything and if we can make things easier for him, then why shouldn’t we?”
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