Bringing your little one to crèche or day care for the first time is exciting and, yes, a challenging milestone for both parents and children.
In Ireland, where the importance of early childhood education is thankfully widely recognised, over 50% of children aged three and under attend some form of childcare or crèche, according to the CSO.
When I first brought my two-year old to play school, to adapt her to the school-going vibe, she was 20 months old and (I thought) a fairly easy going, confident little kid. Alas, it didn’t go well.
I dropped her off on day one and she toddled in, happy as can be. But then, a few minutes later – a text from the play school. “She’s very upset and won’t settle”.
What had happened was, another parent had arrived to pick up a child early, and my little girl was absolutely distraught that it wasn’t me. When I collected her, she was sobbing – obviously my heart broke, and I could tell the girls who work there were feeling all the feels too.
From that day on, I had to make a plan to adapt her to the situation as best I could. These were the things I tried that seemed to work.
We started with short visits to the play school and gradually increased the time she spent there. On the first day, I only left her for 15 minutes. By a couple of weeks later, she was staying for two hours.
I let her bring a (small) toy or comfort item with her. Having something familiar can provide a sense of security to smallies.
Every day before we’d leave for the play school, we’d chat about the ‘plan’. I’d tell her what we were doing, that I would collect her, and where we could go afterwards. She would agree to it and then start looking forward to the after school activity, usually a trip to the park to go on the swings. On the walk to the play school, we’d chat about where we were going and who we might see there (as much to distract her as anything else – premature tears avoided!)
I used things she loves to remind her that school is fun – I reminded her that they had a slide (she loved the slide) and that she would see her friends (specific named friends is always a good option)
I also asked her if she was happy or sad or scared about school and acknowledged her feelings. Even at that young of an age she could tell me “no shool” and look sad, so I knew what she was getting at. I told her it was okay to feel scared of school, but that mammy always comes back to get her and that her teachers are kind and that her friends will play with her. Kids appreciate being listened to, I think, instead of just saying “there’s no need to be scared” or “but school is great!” – she clearly didn’t think so, so I allowed her to express that.
As much as I let her express her dislike of school, I still persisted with daily short and gradually lengthening visits to make sure she got used to it. Persistence was key, and as tough as some of the days were, she now skips into school with her bag in her hand, delighted to see her little pals.