By Donna Gray
*Originally authored/published in Calgary Herald Neighbours Feb 2008
Advisory Board Member –

It’s the first day of preschool. You’ve built up the day for your child, preparing their clothes, snack, back pack. You’ve already done the tour, met the teacher, and talked about how fun preschool will be.

Once you get in the door, however, everything falls apart. Clinging, crying, and resistance make for a bad scene, not to mention feelings of guilt and remorse.

That’s exactly what Cheryl Gorski felt when her son Brandon began preschool a few years ago.

“Oh yeah,” she says with a laugh. “I remember it was pretty devastating for him. That surprised me, because he was always so bold and outgoing. He just lost it and gripped my neck. I left that place bawling myself.”

The drama lasted about a week, Gorski recalls. Then, her son finally figured out that she was coming back, so hanging out and playing wasn’t so bad.

“I had to be patient,” she says. “After that, he didn’t care. He’d just take off at the door to play without even saying goodbye.”

This scene is played out almost daily during the first few weeks of preschool, according to Joanne Baxter, chair of the child and youth studies department and an early childhood educator at Mount Royal College. The good news is, it’s normal. More good news, preschool teachers are prepared for intervention.

“The role of a caregiver is to make that transition, put a routine in place, and give the children some markers,” she says. “The understanding is that this is potentially stressful for the child and parent, both in the morning and at the end of the day.”

Part of a child’s ease into preschool is based on temperament. 

“For some children, it’s easy to make transitions, for others, it’s difficult,” says Baxter. “The most common fear is separation from mom, so we may invite her in for a while, but she never stays. We may also bring in extra staff to help and we have a goodbye song.

One of the rules of ECE professionals is to observe any behaviour that is beyond the normal reaction.”

“Sometimes they are crying and not easily settled,” she says. “You may also see some regression, where the child wets themselves.”

 Fear of the unknown can plague even the most confident child, especially in new situations and group settings. Michael Haggstrom says that preschoolers operate in their own space, and don’t dare to look outward until they deem it safe to do so.

“Little kids don’t think in words the way that we do, they feel,” he says. “They’re worried where mom or dad is going. For all they know, they’re gone forever.”

His tip to parents: be understanding, but firm. Show trust in the teacher, the setting, and demonstrate that the child can’t use the fear to get out of going to preschool.

“Some kids will think they can win the parents over,” he says. “The child may exaggerate. Let the child know it’s not negotiable.”

He also suggests taking a photo of the teacher and child in the classroom during a tour, shopping together for a back pack or lunch box, and preparing for the school day the night before just in case an emotional outburst occurs in the morning.

If the child is unusually traumatized, it’s up to the preschool teacher and parent to determine if the timing isn’t right or if there is another issue.

“Some kids are not ready for preschool,” he says. “If there is a concern, after a few days, really not adapting, it might be something to consider. A parent should still get the child involved in group activities, and after six months, a lot can change.”

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