In a lot of countries, preschools start in January and I’ve had a few concerned parents, some of them are parents whom I mentor in my Inner Circle For Parents Program and in some of the groups that I chat with. I’ve got a lot of mixed observations about how children start school. Some of them are okay, they went to school and they seem to be well adjusted, no real big fuss or issue, and then there are some who will cry and cry and cry for weeks on end and it looks like it will never end.
I’ve got parents asking me “How long this is going to last? How can I ease them into it? What can I do?” I’ve had students that come to class for the first two weeks and seem to be okay, no major issue, they are quite happy about it. But on the third and fourth week, they start crying and not wanting to come to school. So yes, we’ve seen mixed behaviors in young children with regards to how ready they are for school. Here are some ways you can help ease your child into a new school year or a new preschool.
To prepare a child, there are certain things you can do. You can bring them to the school or to the preschool, meet their teachers, look at their classrooms, and visit their classrooms a couple of times when there are children in session and when they are not in session. Let them get familiar with the environment, familiar with their teachers.
Of course, there are many children’s books out there you can buy that talks about what it’s like to go to school, some of the activities to expect, and that sort of helps to prepare for it, and to know what to expect and what they’ll be doing in class. So, these are some things that you can do, you can talk to them at night about their fears and insecurity or their excitements. These are the sort of things we can do to help them understand the environment better and to be better prepared for the time that they will be leaving home.
A lot of people don’t think that this is a big deal but for a little child, this is a big deal. It’s like moving out to college. It’s a big deal because when children are born into this world, their only mission is to be attached to a primary caregiver (mum or dad), and once they’ve formed that attachment, you have to pull them, yank them away and push them into an environment that they are not ready for.
I think that readiness is very important because if a child is not ready and you force him to go to school, a few things can happen. Firstly, you are exposing them to childhood anxiety, and when a child is anxious, the part of the brain that’s in charge of learning totally shuts down because it goes on hyper mode. School should be a relaxed and happy place, so if they are stressed up and anxious about it, there’s no point sending them there because they are not going to learn anyway.
Another thing is that, if they don’t like something and you force them to do it, they tend to build a negative association with that particular place, activity or person because that’s just the way how human beings work. We all have things that traumatized us when we were younger, things that scare us really bad, so we naturally have negative associations with it.
Now, you don’t want to force a child who is not ready to go to preschool because then they will associate a preschool or classroom in a negative way and that’s not how we want them to start off because if they have negative associations, they get very stressed out and anxious so it’s back to square one, they don’t learn anything. Another thing is if they are not ready and you force them to go and they tell you “Mommy, I don’t want to go to school, I’m afraid, I don’t feel well, I just don’t like it, I’ll rather be at home with you,” that’s because they trust you, they trust you to listen to them, to know their gut feeling, and they trust you to advocate for them. So if they decide they are not ready for school yet, then keeping them home for a little while longer might be the best thing to do.
Parents who insist and force their child to go to school even when the child isn’t ready, will start to lose a child’s trust. It applies to everything, it’s not just going to preschool, it’s about potty training, it’s about transitioning to solids, you will know when a child is ready, you just have to look for tell to signs.
Now, I have heard a lot of parents say things like “I don’t want him to make a habit out of it for them to skip class.” I have another parent who said “I don’t want them to think that they can get out of the responsibility of going to school just because they don’t want to.” Now, when I hear something like that, I can see that it is grounded on few assumptions. Okay? So, what I want to do is I’m going to help you reexamine your assumptions, and hopefully once you have reexamined your assumptions, these remarks or these comments will go away.
Here’s the first thing you need to ask yourself;
“Why do you want to send your child to preschool?”
So, you might say;
“I want to send him to preschool because I want him to learn stuff, I want him to socialize.”
But are you saying that he can’t learn at home? Can’t he socialize at home? Then the next assumption will be “Well, I think he learns more at school because the teachers have a curriculum and they are trained. And I think he socializes at school because he’s got more friends his age.” But then, think about it this way, does he really learn more at school? I mean how about if he’s at home and he’s left alone to play all day, is that learning? If he’s talking to you, is that socializing? Because if it is, then he’s better off at home because learning doesn’t only happen at school, it doesn’t only happen when there’s a teacher, and it definitely doesn’t only happen when he’s following a curriculum with standardized textbooks.
I know I’m opening a can of worms because it’s so much of psychology at play here, but just to very quickly summarize it, if you look at any situation at any environment that you are in, whether you are in your work place or at the bus stop or at home, there are not many times that you’ll find yourself in an environment where everybody is the same age. Have you noticed? Is everybody in your office the same age? Is everybody at the post office the same age? No, that’s because it’s just not natural.
We learn to socialize at home with our parents, with our extended family members, with our cousins, with our siblings, and everybody is likely of different ages. That’s the very natural way to socialize. But the thing is, in the last few decades, when school became popular, everybody thinks that socialization has to happen within the same age like peers. But that’s not a natural way to learn social skills because in an environment like that, you have a lot of bullying, a lot of peer pressure, a lot of comparisons, a lot competitions. I’m not saying this is bad, but I’m saying it’s not really a healthy way to promote competition.
You have all these problems you see nowadays at school, so I think that keeping them at home for a few more years may not be a bad thing. And if you keep them at home, you give them a lot of chances to play, you give them a loving environment with friends and with family members who will support them. If they don’t have siblings, get them a pet dog, that works brilliantly as well. When you have an environment like that, they get a chance to build a strong foundation in self-confidence, in being independent, and once they get to school and they are ready, it will be so easy for them to transition to school. I think that you only see problems when a child is not ready yet. And if a child is not ready it doesn’t mean that he’s dumb or he’s stupid or he’s losing out in anyway.
I think when they are not ready it just means they are not ready. I’ll give you an example. Not all of us are ready to get married, not all of us are ready to have children, not all of us are ready to have children at a certain age, not all of us are ready to retire, so we all don’t get ready at the same time, and so the whole failure of the school system to assume that everybody should start preschool or school at a certain time, regardless of whether they are ready or not, is detrimental. One of the things that we could at least fight for our children is to help them determine when they are ready, and if you are not sure, you can let them try and see how they feel about it. But believe me when they are ready they’ll walk into the classroom with their head held high and they will have so much fun in there. That’s when you know they are ready. If they come out and say “mom, I don’t want to go back”, then you might let them try one more time and if that still doesn’t work then know it’s probably a sign that they are not ready yet. I hope that this helps you think through things and to again look at your assumptions and to reexamine them.
Another thing about a comment that a parent made, she said that “I don’t want them to think that they can get out of responsibility of going to school just because they don’t want to.” With regards to that, I have a question, just really think about. Do you think that children’s responsibility is to go to school? But who took on the responsibility? Did our children choose to take on that responsibility or did we choose it for them? Now, if we chose it for them and we expect them to take responsibility for it, it’s like an arranged marriage where your parents choose who you marry and make a decision for you that will change the course of your life forever. So, just think about that. Who is the one who took on that responsibility?
If the child took on that responsibility, then yes, fine, we want them to learn to keep to it as much as possible, we want them to keep to the house chores that they can be responsible for and to take ownership for. But if we force them to be responsible or we take on the responsibility and just enforce it on them, then, I don’t think that that’s something that is fair because if we don’t want people to do that to us, then why do we do that to our children? So, that’s something for you to think about.
To summarize everything into three points, my advice will firstly be, look for readiness. Readiness for everything, readiness to learn to read, readiness to learn to write, readiness to go to school, readiness to learn to cycle a bicycle and so on. If we can look for that readiness, they will learn it so fast and it will come so naturally to them. But if they are not ready and you force it on them, we will be putting a lot of strain on our relationship with our children and I think that’s not worth it. I don’t think anything is worth having a strained relationship with our children. I’m not saying let them get away with murder. I’m just saying that there are things you can do to change the environment so that it becomes more conducive for them to be ready.
Secondly, children trust us to be their advocates. Okay. Now, if something is wrong and you run to, let’s say your husband, you talk to him and you expect him to understand you and to stand up for you, and he doesn’t. He tells you things like “why is this such a big deal, just do it, it’s just a small thing, what’s wrong with you?” (I hear a lot of parents tell their children this when their children refuse to go to school) And if you don’t like your husband to talk to you that way and expect you to do that, then I don’t think that we should talk to our children that way and expect them to things that they don’t want to.
The third point would be that, children’s need changes and that’s okay. So, sometimes children walk into the classroom and they really enjoy it, they are rocking it out, and six months later they change their mind about it. I think that’s absolutely fine because our needs as adults changes as well. There will be times when we want to focus more on our career and another time we want to focus more on our children, so our need changes based on certain life’s circumstances or environment and it is okay for our children needs to change as well. In fact, our children needs are constantly changing, and I know it’s tiring but it really helps if you can keep on top of it and look up for their readiness because we are the advocates after all.
So, I hope that this helps you clear out a few of the assumptions or examine a few of the assumptions that you have. Now, don’t forget that no matter what we do as parents, as human beings, as a spouse, as a daughter, somebody’s child, as a neighbor, as a useful member of a society, no matter what we do, we have to examine our assumptions because if we don’t, it’s very, very hard to have an open mindset and it’ll be very hard to progress. I’m not saying that you have to change everything, but I think it all comes from an awareness and that awareness comes from looking at your assumptions, especially assumptions that we take for granted.
About The Author:
Queenie Tan (MEd) is Asia’s Elite Parenting Coach, was born in Klang, based in Hong Kong and is currently world schooling both her boys (Charles aged 13 and Kevin aged 10) while she speaks at international conferences, authors parenting books and manages her parenting podcast at www.parentingoncue.com.
Being dyslexic, Queenie struggled with 11 years of formal public education and was determined to be the teacher that she never had. Queenie is a veteran international pre-school teacher and an experienced early childhood educator trainer who has worked in Hong Kong, Singapore and China.
Now, she shares hercutting edge teaching approaches and behavior management strategies with early childhood educators/teachers all over the world. While she advocates for personalized and customized teaching approaches to cater to every child’s unique individual learning needs, strengths and challenges, her passion also lies in empowering parents by teaching them how to ‘read’ their children’s cues, to interpret them accurately and to respond appropriately while creating optimal environments for their own children to thrive.
Queenie has recently been awarded ‘Best Parent Education And Support Services’ for 2017 by APAC Insider and Global 100 respectively.