Q. Several children in my preschool class seem to have a hard time separating from their parents in the morning. What can I do as a teacher to ease the transition from home to school?
--Shawn Ruiz, Merced, CA
A. Some preschoolers arrive at school barely aware that they’re even awake! When still tired or not quite in gear, transitioning from their home and parents to school activities can be very difficult. The early morning at home may have been very hectic for them, and they might need some time to “decompress” when they first walk into class. Greet each child by name, and go with him to find an interesting, engaging activity. Make suggestions if the child himself cannot choose. If this child has a special friend, bring the two of them together in the book or block or puzzle corner so they can use their relationship to ease more comfortably into the day. Encourage parents to give their children only a quick hug or kiss goodbye and not to prolong the moment of parting. For most preschoolers, the very beginning of the day is the hardest, and once they get involved in an initial activity, they quickly immerse themselves in the school routine and the rest of the day goes much more smoothly.
Encouraging the Shy Child
Q. My class of four-year-olds is generally an outgoing and boisterous bunch. However, there is one child who seems to always hold back from actively participating in activities and seems particularly shy around the other children. I try to encourage her to participate to no avail. What can I do?
--Susan Brown, Bangor, ME
A. Research has shown that children come into this world with in-born temperaments. Some children are naturally friendly and outgoing, others more shy and slower to warm up. Some children are extremely active, barely taking time out from their running around to eat or sleep. Others are more watchers than doers, participating at a slower pace. Talk to this girl’s parents to learn if the generally more reserved and laid back style you are witnessing also goes on outside of the classroom. Find out how these parents encourage their daughter to participate more fully in activities at home or in their neighborhood. At school, try pairing this child with a slightly more outgoing “buddy” to show her the ropes in unfamiliar situations. Encourage home play dates so this quieter child can begin to feel comfortable on a one-to-one basis with some of her classmates in more familiar surroundings. Let her know ahead of time when there will be a change in routine that might be confusing. Continue your gentle encouragement of her participation in activities. As long as she is happy to be in school and participating at her own pace, be assured that she will slowly become more involved with the other children as she feels more and more comfortable with her surroundings. If, despite such encouragement, no progress is made over the next few months, you may want to enlist the aid of a child therapist who can involve her in social skills building activities with her peers in the classroom.
Ronnie Ginsberg, Psy.D., is a licensed psychologist and director of training at an outpatient mental health clinic in Massachusetts and also maintains a private practice for psychotherapy and psychological testing. She consults with preschool teachers and parents to help smooth transitions in normal child development, and helps modify classroom and home environments to meet individual children's social, emotional, and cognitive needs. She has run numerous peer leadership training programs for 10- to 14- year-olds, and authored over 50 parenting articles for local newspapers and school publications. Dr. Ginsberg, of Andover, MA, is the mother of two adolescents.