When you enroll your child in a child care program, you learn about the regulations set by the state, the health department, and the program itself. When it comes to helping your child prepare for the group experience, however, there are no set rules; there are only the needs of your child. As your child returns to child care or enters for the first time, here are some important ways to help your child get off to a good start.
The best preparation for any new experience is a close parent-child relationship. The child who feels loved, bonded, and secure will carry those feelings into every situation. Your child may still have trouble separating from you, and that’s perfectly normal. If so, arrange with the teacher to make a slow transition. During the first week or two, stay with your child for as long as she needs you there. After that, gradually begin a shorter transitioning period. Your goal should be to give hugs and kisses and say good-bye with the least amount of fuss, then leave. If after two weeks your child is still crying frantically when you leave, he may not be ready for a group experience. On the other hand, this may not be the right program or teacher for your child.
Before your child enters a group setting, introduce him to similar social experiences so he won’t be frightened or feel overwhelmed by a group. Go to places where there are several kids, such as the playground, gym class, neighborhood gatherings, or Sunday school and watch your child’s interactions. If he is either too aggressive or too passive, suggest ways to be cooperative without being a door mat and assertive enough without being violent. In time, your child will develop these social skills as part of the group experience.
On Time Arrivals
Be sure your child arrives on time. There are many good reasons for being on time but the one that really counts is that your child will feel like “one of the gang” instead of the shy, awkward late-comer. Sometimes parents think in terms of their own schedule and convenience, forgetting that the child has different needs. Once a group of children has begun to play, it is hard for the child who arrives late to join the group. The feeling of being left out can spoil what might have been a great day. If your child must arrive after the session has begun, ask the teacher when would be the most advantageous time to arrive. The same idea applies to picking your child up. The child who is always last to be picked up may feel unimportant and rejected.
Help your child fit in. Begin by teaching your child little niceties like saying “hello,” “please,” and “thank you.” In the past, politeness was taken for granted. Nowadays, I notice that many parents don’t bother with formalities. I don’t require formalities as a teacher, but I certainly appreciate the child who asks for more juice instead of demanding it! I find that children are also drawn to and admire kids who are considerate and respectful of others.
Another way to help your child fit in is to pay attention to his appearance. Children enjoy feeling powerful, particularly at the expense of other children. If your child really wants to wear two different socks or wear his pajamas to preschool, make sure he understands that someone might laugh. If he’s comfortable with that, I salute him for his strength, but if he is likely to dissolve in tears and feel rejected, please help him find something else to wear.
Finally, know your child’s temperament. The outgoing, friendly, and easy-to-play-with child will thrive in a group setting, but the introverted child may tolerate a group for a few hours, then fall apart. She may prefer to play alone or watch other kids play. A wise and loving parent or teacher will accept every child and will allow for differences. Pushing a child to be like everyone else can severely damage the child’s sense of self-worth and self-confidence. Introverts often cope with social situations by playing roles. Check to see if your child’s program provides dress-up clothes and role-playing props, such as superhero capes and firefighter helmets. If your program allows children to bring their own toys, the shy child can use a toy as a way to gain entry to the group.
Eleanor Reynolds is the editor of The Best of the Problem-Solver: Articles for Parents and Teachers. For more information, call 800-989-7643 or visit her website at www.problemsolver.org. Reynolds is also the author of Guiding Young Children: A Problem-Solving Approach.