One month in – how's your little one settling in to crèche or school?
September brings so much change for our children; it’s the start of the school year, a month of settling in, adapting to change and new surroundings.
Many are only starting crèche, pre-school, and primary school, and for some, it’s the first time in a formal setting – some will sail through the changes, but for others, they'll have butterflies in their tummies, and it may take longer to adjust and settle in.
For some parents, it’s one of the hardest goodbyes – the day when you leave your child at crèche or pre-school or your five-year-old at primary school for the first time. It’s no easier when friends tell you all the tricks they used to get children settled in pre-school or used to the idea of ‘big school’.
No matter how many articles you've read about choosing childcare or starting school, or how many times you’ve visited the places, met the carers and the teachers, your children’s friends and had play dates, some children simply find it difficult to adjust to change.
Many experience minor teething trouble adjusting to their new environment, so try not to worry too much. As adults and parents, we sometimes need to remind ourselves that being anxious about change is a natural reaction; clinginess is a normal response to feelings of anxiety and can be brought on by normal routine changes or new situations.
The good news is, it’s just a phase, and there’s lots you can do to put your little one at ease and help them to move on.
Top tips for helping children settle
A little organisation can go a long way to helping ease your child into the new routine. Children like to know what’s happening next and are reassured by the familiarity of a routine. For school-age children, this is also an opportunity for your child to learn new skills – being responsible for their own belongings, helping to prepare packed lunches or putting their dirty uniform in the wash.
Keep up the communication
Encourage good communication during the settling-in period at crèche, pre-school or school. Factor in some special time each day – reserved just for them – to talk about their day. But be careful not to pump your child for information, which might make them feel that you're worried something is wrong, thereby making your child anxious.
Use a consistent phrase when saying goodbye. Be brief, do not linger, and do not overreact if your child gets upset after saying goodbye. Overreacting will only feed into your child’s anxiety and make it worse while lingering will increase the likelihood that your child will continue to cry or seek your affection to prolong your stay each time. It is important to say goodbye and reassure your child that you will return to collect them later in the day and remember to use positive language!
Make sure they understand to ask for help if someone is upsetting them in the playground. Don't alarm them with tales of bullying, just help them understand if someone hurts them physically or says nasty things, they should tell their teacher.
Your reassurance is vital. Don't laugh off their worries, even if they seem trivial, but talk through the concerns with your child and explain that their teacher is on-hand to help with anything that worries them during the day.
Share your own happy experiences of school, and remind them that all children get a little nervous sometimes, but if they really are worried about anything, they can come and talk to you.
If you are feeling nervous about the transition or their nervousness, try not to show it – your child will pick up on your mood, making them more prone to nerves.
If they find change difficult, it’s realistic to expect they'll take a few weeks to adjust to crèche, pre-school or school. Look for small signs of progress, such as a shorter time to say goodbye or less time crying, or happier smiles when you pick your child up – these signs will be gradual, but they are worth noting, so you also feel positive about your child’s ability to adjust to their new surroundings.
Many children come home in the first weeks of school feeling grumpy, tired and hungry – if you anticipate this, and you’re ready with nutritious food and drink, a warm hug, not too many after-school activities and an empathetic ear, you will help them cope better with their new, and often exhausting school routine.
But if anything continues to cause you concern, it's important to have a conversation with your child's teacher to understand what's going on.
Dearbhala Cox Giffin, Director of Childcare, Giraffe Childcare.