Dear Aspire Too,
My three year old son started pre-school for the first time this year. The first day of school he hid behind me until it was time for me to leave and then he began crying uncontrollably. The pre-school teacher reassured me he would be fine, but I couldn’t help feeling horrible the entire morning. He clung to me for the rest of the day after pre-school. I wonder if he is ready for pre-school yet. Should we wait another year?
Dear Worried Parent,
The beginning of the school year is difficult for most children, even if they are excited about it! For children entering school for the first time, there are numerous challenges they must overcome in order to be successful, starting with being able to be separated from their parent for the prescribed period of time.
It sounds as though your son is experiencing some separation anxiety, and wants to keep you close to him in this new environment. Being able to separate from a parent, and navigate an entirely new environment successfully is a skill, just like any other skill your child may learn over his lifetime.
Children mature at different rates and although it is believed children are capable of attending preschool at three years of age, this is only a general guideline. Some children take longer to develop than others, and typically I advise parents to make decisions for their child based on their skills and abilities at the time.
Children are able to attend pre-school at many schools and daycares when they turn three years of age, providing they are potty trained. When a parent decides to enroll their child in pre-school, it is a personal decision based on how you think your child will fare in school given their age and unique situation. Pre-school provides children with some basic academic skills that are necessary for development.
Children learn their ABCs, rhyming, and basic music skills. Pre-school also helps children develop their fine and gross motor skills, executive functioning skills and social skills, including basic etiquette. Another advantage of pre-school is it allows children to separate from their parent, for brief periods in a supportive learning environment in preparation for kindergarten. If you choose to wait another year before trying pre-school again, you can help your child prepare for success in pre-school in a number of different ways including:
1. Attend reading and story times at the public library to help your child get used to being around people with you.
2. You could join a parent/tot program.
3. You could enroll your child in an age appropriate class, where you and your child are separated, but still the same general vicinity.
4. Teach the child the ABC song and sing it often.
5. Read to your child.
6. Arrange play dates for your child and other children in the neighborhood.
7. Teach your child how to write their name.
8. Teach your child how to recognize numbers and letters.
9. Do puzzles with your child.
Most children will learn to master their anxiety regarding separating from their parent over a few weeks. If you choose to keep your child enrolled in pre-school and work through this difficult time for you and your child, it is important to normalize your child’s feelings and provide them with strategies on how to manage them. Allowing your child to see you talk with the teacher and assist them in working through difficult feelings can help your child develop a sense of mastery over this milestone. This also has the potential to increase your child’s self-esteem, which can help him master other difficult transitions in his life.
If the strategies you have tried have been unsuccessful in reducing your son’s separation anxiety, or the behaviour worsens, this may be something a counselor experienced in working with children could help you and your son overcome.
If you would like to consult with a counsellor or to book an appointment to, contact us at 306-382-2391 or www.aspiretoo.ca.