Back to Preschool

How to Make the Transition Back to Preschool Easy for Your Toddler

It is no secret that some moms and dads dread the arrival of the first day of preschool. That moment when they finally got that sweet, chubby, wiggly foot inside of that stiff toddler shoe and pasted on a smile, hoping that this would be the start of the school year and that their little darling would not make such a fuss in front of the Preschool that it again draws the attention of the entire hallway.

And then the handoff…. “Paci is in her bag, labeled; it’s the pink one with Pooh on it” Screaming…writhing… “It’s going to be OK, sweetheart, Mommy will come to get you in a little while” Arms outstretched to grab anything, toddler slipping out of your grasp…rodeo skills are in full gear. “She already ate this morning but left about 1/3 of her bottle. She’s usually not interested in the sippy cup, so I have 1/3 of the bottle in her bag, and she may not nap. She’s really been fighting those naps lately” Squirming, reaching… Mom is talking. “Please just let me know if she does not settle down. She’s been teething, and she’s been having a lot of separation anxiety lately” Mom hugs child goodbye – child latches on to mom like a spider monkey…have to remember tug of war skills from second grade and…child is free, mom is moving out of eyeshot ….relief. Although the child is still screaming.

Next may come the bribe “You can have a snack if you calm down” Or the handoff “Here (insert teenager’s name), you can hold on to her” Or the questioning “Do you want a doll? Crayons? Animal Cracker? Want to go to the swing?”

But what would happen if we determined the truth in this situation and calmly repeated it straight to the heart of this little one?

What if we looked like we really meant it? What if the screams were like silence to us as we spoke through it to the true heart of this child- over and over until the sobbing subsided? Would the truth, in fact, set her free?

We may think that being successful in this moment is all about what this toddler hears, but in reality, it is just as much about what she sees and what she senses. The thing that we want to communicate to this little one is the truth. She cannot always hear it over her own screaming, but she will see it and sense it. Communicating the truth to toddlers involves our facial expressions and our body language as well as our words.

The good news is that toddlers are more adaptable than they appear.

With a simple, repetitive statement and a confident demeanor, children will more easily respond to the truth and can learn to love the ministry environment. The truth is that our ministry environment is a fun and safe place to be. So our repetitive statement can be, “This is a fun place; you are safe here, and you will be just fine.”

What to do?

Simply state the truth over her and be confident. The toddler may not like it at first and her little face will reflect that. It is simply unfamiliar to her and toddlers like familiarity. Your confident face and repetitive statement will equip her to believe she is safe and will be fine. It may take 4 total visits of truth and repetition before that confidence becomes contagious. Please do not lose hope; be her confidence. She can do it! So, step one is to help them feel safe and secure.

Therein lies a crucial step to changing their behavior. We begin to believe in the truth with everything within us, then we say it in clear, confident, and repetitive statements (peppered with love), and finally, we ACT on that truth. We can put this child down, screaming and all, and carry on with our opportunities as if this is a fun and safe place to be.

Here are more tips to help in the first day of preschool challenges.

  1. Instead of reacting to the toddler’s fickle and often exaggerated responses to life, we establish the truth and help them recognize that truth with clear, confident repetition. So, they are not in control of how we all feel about the daycare environment; we are in control of how we present the daycare environment to them.
  2. Keep a consistent schedule of events. Toddlers find great security when things go in the same order at the same time. Have a definable schedule so that even if the staff changes from week to week, the morning routine remains the same.
  3. It is their job to participate. We cannot make the toddlers participate, but we sure can make it look fun.
  4. Remember, throughout your drop-off experience, keep a calm, friendly face. Let them know that you are confident and have things under control (even when it feels like you don't!) Communicate clearly that you believe they are safe, loved, and can learn to really enjoy this place. Then, get out of the way and let the skilled staff take over. This IS their specialty, after all.
  5. Most of all, enjoy your free time. Think your own thoughts to completion. Listen to your own music in the car (preferably singing at the top of your lungs – but you do you). And then let a refreshed version of you be the one to show up predictably when school is over. It is OK if they miss you. It just means you are doing this parenting thing well.

You’ve got this!

Looking for more? Join us and listen to The Moms on Call Podcast! In Episode 12, Daycare Do’s, we talk all things daycare! Including 6 questions to help narrow down your top daycare choices.

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