Preparing preschoolers for school

Starting school isnít just about your child and their feelings. Sydney counsellor Nichola Bedos suggests mums need to do their own homework to prepare for the first few months of school.

Whether you are ecstatic about finally having time for yourself or horribly tearful over the thought of losing your Ďbabyí, a child starting school is a demanding time for a mother both physically and emotionally.

Many mums are surprised at just how strong their reactions are during the first few weeks of the new term. A little preparation at this time goes a long way towards easing you and your child into the new routine. Follow these simple steps:-

1. Create some space to think

Donít wait until the feelings overwhelm you and you break down in uncontrollable sobs on the steps of school! This wonít help you and it certainly wonít help your child. Instead begin to think about how you view this transition. What are the good things that will happen as your child begins school? What are the difficulties of this time? Write down all the points you can think of and take time to look at this list periodically adding anything new you think of.

2. Share your feelings

Donít bottle emotions up but instead talk to your partner, friends and relatives about this transition. Saying out loud how you feel can help you to sort out your feelings allowing you to be more emotionally available for your child. Set up a mothers support group with a few friends and spend regular time talking about this big change in your lives.

3. Talk to your child

Donít overwhelm them with your feelings but instead talk about their new routine and the part you will play in settling them into school each morning and collecting them at the end of the day. Tell them that you will be there for them to talk to whenever they need this just as you talk to other grown-ups when you need help. Talking regularly with your child about this new part of life will help you as well as them.

4. Finding timesavers

The morning routine can be highly stressful so preparation here can reap huge benefits. Do as much of the organising as possible each night before school, laying out clothes, setting the breakfast table and organising lunch boxes. Get up a little earlier to ensure everything can be done without the need for panic.

5. Filling the day

You may have looked forward to some time to yourself only to find five days a week is too long. Used to the company of a preschooler, Mums can feel isolated. Itís useful to take time to plan how to use your free time wisely. Ensure you arrange a few social activities now that playgroups are no more. Enquire about courses at your nearest TAFE, join a fitness club, take up a new sport or think about starting a small business. Soon youíll wonder how you ever managed before school came along!

6. Coping with the Ďwitching hourí

Iíve saved perhaps the most difficult part of the new school routine for last Ė coping with the horror time between 3pm and 6pm each evening commonly known as the witching hour. This is when you meet your delightful grown-up child from school with hugs and smiles only to have her disintegrate into a screaming wreck five minutes down the road!
Children new to school save up all their negative emotions until you come back to them since it is not safe for them to show these emotions in class. Mums need to prepare themselves to be able to cope. This means accepting that there will be many upsets to begin with. It also means accepting that they are not your fault but are a natural part of starting school. Know that they will end even if it takes three or four months for this to happen. If you are very worried that your child has no friends or is being bullied after this time, seek advice from your childís teacher.

Nichola Bedos is a counsellor working in Sydney with parents, babies and young children with sleep issues, pre and post natal depression, toddler tantrums, returning to work and daycare / preschool difficulties.