Just. Go. Play.

As we begin school, all parents are hoping for the ideal co-op preschool experience for themselves and their child.  We parents envision ourselves cheerfully and competently assisting all the children in our area of the classroom, while our own child happily and busily explores all the class activities, makes new friends, and comes to check in with us and give a quick hug in between adventures. 

Well.  Most Explorer kids and parents will have a number of these idyllic preschool days this year, but it’s not terribly realistic to think that all children will start out their school experience with this level of confidence and enthusiasm.  Many children, due to their own unique and inborn temperament, may take awhile to warm up to school.

During the first few weeks, your child may be sticking very close to you when you are at school.  This is normal for many kids, and they use this adjustment period to observe things from a distance, make sense of what they are seeing and hearing, and re-calibrating their expectations of the world based on these new experiences. 

So, this “clingy phase” of the new school year can be an important adjustment period for some children.  But our goals for all children is that they participate and fully engage in school activities once they’re ready.  What can parents do to help make sure their kids don’t get stuck in clingy-mode?

Here are a few simple things you can do to empower your child to move forward in their enjoyment of school, whatever their temperament:

-Show empathy but not sympathy.  “I can see you’re sad” is more empowering than “My poor baby.”

-Try not to push them away or nag at them.  When we’re too eager for our kids to Just. Go. Play, this tends to make them want to cling tighter.

-Accept their need for staying close to you, but don’t promote it.  Don’t be excessively cuddly, don’t give backrubs, don’t over-help, don’t give non-stop eye contact with your clingy child.  This type of parent behavior reinforces clinginess and fear of new experiences. Give a quick hug, and get back to your job of interacting with ALL the children.

-Focus on the other kids and on your job in the classroom, not on your child. Try to spend the majority of your classroom time talking with and assisting other children, doing the tasks on your work card, and learning to know all the children in the class.  This can be difficult when a fussy or clingy child is demanding our attention, so it sometimes takes deliberate effort. Be available for quick check-ins, but not for extended cuddling. 

-Remember that sometimes the most helpful parenting technique is Selective Ignoring.  If you are too busy to give attention to some of the clingy behaviors, your child will have less incentive to engage in them.

-Talk to your teacher. We teachers don’t know any magic tricks, and we respect the children’s need to adjust to school in their own time. But there may be things we can do to help you NOT reinforce the clinging, and to help your child feel more ready to engage in school.

-And the most important  lesson of all is one which Konne taught me 20-some years ago when my own daughter was stuck like glue to me here at school:  Be persistent and keep on keeping on.  By doing this, you’re giving your child a very important message:  “You and your education are so important to me that I’m happy to be here at preschool, even when you’re acting like THIS.” 

Enjoy this wonderful new school year,  whatever comes along.  Your child is learning every minute, whether it feels like The Perfect Day or not.

Exploring With Teacher Annie

TODDLERHOOD. The stage of life between 12 and 36 months is unique and special. Toddlers see things in their own way and have very strong feelings. Often, we adults have a lot of difficulty understanding what the toddlers in our life need from us. Explore the wonders of toddlerhood with me, from a developmental perspective.
(Note: I change names and details when discussing things that happen at preschool.)

read more about Annie Castle Deckert, M.ED.PSYCH.