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Whether you are transitioning from home to day-care; home to pre-school; home to a big trip; or from the play space to the kitchen… transitions can be a parent’s biggest challenge.
Christina Perez of Little Sprigs Podcasts shares her wisdom and experience gained through years of helping children and parents transition.
Somehow every year I forget just how challenging the first few weeks of school really are. Not just for the children, but for teachers and parents too.
Separation anxiety, stressful mornings, limit testing, and sads…oh so many sads.
Change can be scary all by itself.
When we have no idea what to expect, it can be nerve-wracking.
As a preschool teacher, I am often the first person caring for a child beyond parents and family. It is a role I do not take lightly. I love each child like they are my own. But during those first days, they could care less how much I adore and respect them. All I hear is, “I want my mommy!”
After about four weeks of school, we’ve now had a tear-free drop-off, adventurous outdoor play, great transitions, all children eating the same meal, all nappers sleeping, and friendships clearly developing.
How did we make it to this tear-free place?
1. RHYTHM & ROUTINE
I have created a daily and weekly routine that gives the children rhythm to their preschool experience (and you can do the same with your home routine). The daily routine is a “breathing rhythm,” alternating between focused concentration and expansion.
Just as we need to inhale and exhale deeply to feel relaxed, this type of schedule helps your child feel grounded and secure.
An ” inhale” could be eating, painting, drawing, or a nap. During this time, the child needs the support of an adult – not because they are not capable of doing it on their own, but because they need to feel your presence and know that you are there for them as they begin to relate to themselves.
The “exhale” happens during free play, outdoor adventures, or running. They are developing their relationship with the outside world. This is a great time to do the “real” work of the home like cleaning, cooking, folding laundry etc. Children play best next to an adult doing work they can imitate. I often have children asking me to help. They take great pride in their sweeping, dusting, and dish washing.
PARENTS NEED TO BREATHE, TOO:
For parents who are saving all of the house work for nap time – STOP!
That is time for you to rest as well.
You, too, need the balanced breath of the day.
Many parents resist the idea of a routine because they are already experiencing a loss of personal freedom. But, I promise you that so much freedom and peace is restored for everyone when you are not making decisions moment-by-moment.
You know where you are headed, so when things go off track you have the ability to improvise.
For example, lunch happens at 11:45 every day. You have been running errands all morning, look down at the clock and see 11:23. Oops! Your child is in the back already expressing their frustration. But you know why. There is no time to drive all the way home and cook. So you assure your child you are on the way to have lunch and pop into a cafe.
All is well. Melt-down avoided.
Mornings can be the toughest. Do what you can the night before. Choose the clothing and lay them out. Prepare and pack lunches. Make sure water bottles are filled and backpacks are ready.
SET YOUR FAMILY UP FOR SUCCESS:
Create morning and bedtime rhythms:
Allowing time to connect first thing in the morning when she wakes is HUGE. It sets the tone for the day.
6:30 wake up and have 10 minutes of connection/snuggle time.
6:45 get dressed, brush hair, wash face
7:00 breakfast together. Even if I just have coffee, I sit with her and am present
7:20 free play time for her while I prepare some things for the day
8:00 get ready to meet our friends outside in the park for school
4:30 bath time, pjs, free play or help make dinner
6:00 potty, wash up, brush and floss teeth
6:15 stories and snuggles
6:30 lights out
Be sure to keep the meal and rest times throughout the weekend.
SET FIRM, CALM, LOVING BOUNDARIES
Setting limits for children is not mean, it is loving.
I hold these limits, these boundaries, for the children very consciously. I know why they are there and that helps them to feel loved and protected.
Boundaries are more about support than they are about enforcing a rule.
Think of setting limits as, “How do I support my child to make the best choice?”
Testing your boundaries is the job of a young child. They need to know exactly how far they are allowed to go. They need clarification on how the world works and where their power lies. They need to know that no matter how big their feelings are or how hard they push, that they cannot knock us over. If we seem threatened by them or they have the power to make us angry, then they are in charge and that is a very scary place for a child.
As you begin setting limits, notice when you get triggered. Make note of the feelings and thoughts that you have in those moments:
WHAT IS YOUR TRIGGER?
Discover exactly what is triggering you.
Is it that your child is not listening to you?
What action do you take when that happens?
Do you threaten a punishment?
Offer a logical explanation?
If you find yourself setting a boundary on something one day and letting it slide the next, the child will not be able to respect it. This is exhausting for you and disorienting for your child.
The most challenging boundary I have to set in the preschool is nap time – especially if the parents have not done it at home. For the first few days of a new school year, nap time can be a cacophony of tired protests: whines, tears, and claims that they are not tired.
But, as the adult, I know this is what is best for their physical, mental and emotional health. So I am not triggered or stressed by their release. I breathe deeply and sing soft lullabies. I offer each, one by one, whatever they need to settle. A back rub, foot rub, an extra blanket…
Then I sit in meditation. This is rest time for me, too.
My presence in the room holds them. This is what we are doing now. There is no question.
After only a few days, they all go into the nap room without protest, hug their lovey, and are asleep within 5-15 minutes.
If we want our children to cooperate, we have to get there through connection, not control.
Wise words from Magda Gerber, Early Childhood Educator and Founder of Educaring (RIE):
“Know what’s important, both for you and for the child. If you are not clear, the child’s opposition will persist, which will make you, the parent, even angrier. This in turn highlights the conflict that exists already, leading to an unhappy situation combining anger, guilt, and fear. A child has a difficult time growing up with ambivalent parents.”
EMPATHY AND MORE EMPATHY
There are many ways we teach our children to shove their big emotions down.
We have so much of our own emotional baggage that a child’s tears can trigger us beyond reason!
Our tiny children are learning how to navigate their big emotions and need our support to see that they can make it through them and be okay.
It seems counter-intuitive to talk about the exact thing that is causing their upset. So our go-to is distraction, closely followed by dismissal of the upset altogether.
Like all of us: Children just want to feel heard.
When a child is crying after separating from a parent, I hold them and confirm their words and feelings: ”I hear you, you want daddy to come back. It is time for him to go to work and you feel sad about that right now.”
Once the big feelings have been acknowledged and expressed they move on and out naturally.
For example, a boy was crying on my lap after mom had left. He was saying that he wanted to go home and pet his dog. I told him that I understood that he loved his dog very much and that petting his fur would feel so nice: “Yes,” he responded, “I want my dog!”
He then calmed down and started telling me how he loves to throw sticks so the dog can chase them. I smiled and he smiled back. The next moment he was off my lap and playing with the other children.
When your child shares feelings with you, don’t dismiss them.
A common response to a child who says, “I don’t want to go to school,” is: “You are going to have so much fun!” Or “You have to go, so let’s get moving.”
Allow your child the space to express themselves.
Validate their feelings.
This doesn’t mean you are giving them the choice to stay home.
When you pick up your child from school, it is an “exhale” time for them.
One of the greatest gifts to offer is a quiet car ride home. By this I mean, refrain from asking your child questions. It can be very stressful for them when they have had a long day at school and need to relax and reconnect with you.
An honest, “Hi sweetheart! I am so happy to be with you now,” along with physical connection is good.
As you begin your journey home, notice what bubbles up naturally in your child. If they are quiet, then they really do need that time to “digest” their day.
Arriving home is the perfect time to connect. Take some time to sit together for a snack, or snuggle on the couch. They have missed you too.
After you have reconnected you can talk about the evening plan, which will help them flow into bedtime.
And you’ll be refreshed and ready to begin again the next day!
Christina is the host of Little Sprigs Podcast, an experienced early childhood teacher, certified parent coach, and grateful mama. She spends her days running her Waldorf inspired, home based preschool in San Francisco, and supporting parents near and far. Her work and weekly podcasts are available to parents all over the world who are striving to shift from fear based control tactics to conscious parenting with love and acceptance. She believes all parents deserve to have access to the resources and support they need to cultivate a peaceful, loving home and a family dynamic based on core values, trust, and authentic guidance.