If you are a parent to an infant or a toddler, in all likelihood, you must have experienced more than one “I wish I could get a few hours of peace” moment. And then, that day arrives at last with a boom. The first day of your child at preschool/school! All that you love to do but never got a chance to indulge in due to parental responsibilities, you save for this big moment. “I will write more once my child starts going to school”. “I will watch movies when my child starts going to school”. “I will catch up on my lost sleep when my child starts going to school”. “I will visit the parlour at peace and pamper myself once my child starts going to school.” “I will this.” “I will that.” Isn’t the list endless? But, all you do once the child is away is sit aimlessly and cast a vacant, faraway stare into infinity.
So, yesterday was my daughter’s first day at preschool. No, let me correct that – it was my first day! Because I definitely seemed to be the more anxious, besieged and lost one. She is almost 2.5 years old and I was amazed at her confidence in handling this transformation sportingly and with zeal and alacrity. I had decided to wait outside the premises of the school on the first day but was advised by her teacher to leave once she settled down. When I reached home, I could sense restlessness creeping inside me and then, without a warning I could feel hot tears trickling down. Damn, I was weeping! I sincerely don’t know why but I was. Maybe because I was terribly missing the presence of my daughter and could feel the void; maybe because the peace I was desperately waiting for seemed like a sinister stranger whose noise was more deafening than the tumult created by my daughter’s antics; maybe because I was feeling guilty about having been a bit harsh on my daughter over the last few days due to extreme toddler meltdowns, whereas she made things trouble-free for me at such a crucial juncture of our lives; maybe because I was fretting over her well-being as she faces this big bad world outside; maybe because of the fact that she is growing at rocket speed and time is just slipping through my fingers like sand; maybe because I was genuinely glad and keyed up about her entering this new and vital phase of her life; or maybe because it dawned upon me that finally I have to take that first step towards cutting the umbilical cord.
Nature has beautifully designed the childbirth process. It knows that a child is not technically an extension of the parents, though this fact is hard for us to concede. So while the umbilical cord is cut right after a child is born, we continue to tie ourselves to the baby with an invisible string. Most parents today including us are quite aware and do appreciate that children are independent individuals and that we are only their nurturers and facilitators. We have to let them go, we have to detach at some point and we have to let them find their own ground. The approach towards parenting has surely evolved with the changing times. But, what makes parenting challenging is that we may “know” a lot of things but actually implementing those takes time and realizations. Hence, while one part of me mocked at me and asked me to cut down on the melodrama, there was another part of me which empathized with me and let me confront and embrace my thoughts and fears, however rational or irrational they might be. After all, the emotional upheaval is going to last just for a few days before the new routine becomes an intrinsic part of our lives.
Setting foot into the world of schooling is not just a key milestone for the child but also for the parent. And to make this transition easier and smoother, I did follow a few hacks which seemed to have worked in my case. I am sharing these tips with an earnest hope that they work for all the parents out there who are already in this situation or are soon going to be sailing in the same boat.
Talk to your child about school – First things first! Talk to your child about school once you have enrolled him/her in one. Do not assume that they are too little to understand. Children are much more receptive and intuitive than we give them credit for. Let them know as much as possible about what to expect in school and make it sound exciting, and also mention about how they can make new friends once they start attending school. Even if you are getting emotional about the whole thing, avoid expressing it in front of your child, especially before the first day.
Involve your child in the school related preparations – Involving children in all the preparations related to school can help a great deal in making them accept this change with an open mind. Make your child participate while purchasing school bag or lunch box or water bottle or any other school essentials. Also, giving them the responsibility of packing stuff in their school bag, of course with your guidance, can be a pleasurable activity which can generate enthusiasm in them.
Read books or show videos related to school – Read age appropriate books related to school for your child. Alternatively, even watching videos of favourite characters in the school setup can be quite useful. For example, I made my daughter watch a Peppa Pig video and post watching it she understood that parents do not sit with their children in school, and that only Madam Gazelle and Peppa’s friends accompany her inside.
Encourage children to express their feelings without being pushy – Irrespective of how much a child can communicate, encouraging children to express their feelings about school is very important. Ask them casual questions about how they felt, what they did and whether they enjoyed or not. If they are crying too much, we need to console them without being pushy in our demeanour. Do not ever say “There is no option but you have to go to school.” Instead, acknowledge your child’s emotions, show compassion and provide the comfort that only a parent can offer. Also, patiently explain that everyone goes to school for education and even you did so when you were young. You can also give examples of other kids in your locality who attend school and can also point to school buses during relaxed and random conversations.
Trust teachers and demonstrate it when you are around – Many preschools allow a parent to be present outside the school in the initial days. If you have that option available, and if it is feasible for you, do avail it to make this shift more comfortable for your child. However, though we may be tempted to rush to our children on hearing them bawl inside, please refrain from doing so as far as possible. Trust the teachers to handle the situation to the best of their abilities. Children will warm up to their teachers only if we show confidence and belief in them.
Spend more time together at home after school – Try to spend more quality time with your child after school hours for a few days if it is possible to do so depending on your work schedule and commitments. Like in my case, I have consciously decided to not take up any additional writing assignments or dance related projects till my daughter settles down well in school. I work only when she is away or sleeping, whereas earlier I used to also work at times when she was around/ awake. This has aided in drastically reducing the crying outbursts resulting from separation anxiety.
Following each of the above cannot ensure that your child will be all cheerful and exuberant with the idea of going to school. Every child is different and some adjust faster than others due to multiple influencing factors. My daughter did not shed a single tear on the first day of preschool but surprised us with a not so short crying spell today. But overall, these hacks will undoubtedly help your child and you to cope much better than you have anticipated. Time, patience and your fortitude will get you through this challenging phase!