Beginning the Montessori preschool year is a time of excitement and uncertainty for many new children.
It is common for students (and parents) to experience feelings of anxiety, which is perfectly normal. These feelings are often caused by a fear of the unknown, as the child has no point of reference to draw upon when they are faced with a new environment or experience.
Separation anxiety can also be attributed to a child’s stage of development. At around eight months, young children begin to learn about object permanence.
When an infant is no longer able to see an object in their line of sight, they believe it has disappeared. It takes time for young children to build relationships and establish a sense of trust with their new educators, so that they come to understand that their new environment is a safe and happy place.
Separation anxiety is a normal part of development, and most common for children aged eight months to two years; however, it can affect children of all ages.The first day of preschool, in a new room or class, can bring on a reoccurrence of separation anxiety in children who were previously settled.
This is not uncommon, and is likely to settle once a new routine and relationships have been established.
No matter what the cause, tearful goodbyes and anxiousness can be distressing to everyone involved. Below you will find a number of strategies to help Montessori parents settle their children into preschool. Remember separation anxiety is a phase, it is perfectly normal, and will pass in time.
Preparing for the First Day
Prepare your child for their first day by reading to them about their favourite characters going to school. Titles include: ‘Mum Goes to Work’ by Libby Gleeson and Leila Rudge, ‘A Bit Lost’ by Chris Haughton, and ‘How to Babysit a Grandad’ by Jean Reagan and Lee Wildish.
Positive Behaviours and Attitudes
Modelling positive behaviours and attitudes plays an important role in the success of the first day of school, and the weeks thereafter. Keep discussions about preschool positive, and focus on things that your child is likely to enjoy. Children pick up on parent’s feelings, behaviours, and emotions, and are likely to emulate them if you are feeling upset or uncertain.
Establish a positive and happy morning routine for preschool days. For children over two, this may include encouraging your child to pack their own school bag, find their favourite comforter, or sing a happy ‘school day’ themed song. Always give yourself plenty of time to get ready and arrive on time. Feeling late or rushed can cause children to feel additional anxiety.
Acknowledge your Child’s Feelings
It is important to accept that your child’s unhappiness at being separated from you is real, very normal, and temporary. Reinforce that you understand that leaving your child makes them unhappy, but that it is important that you leave, and they will have a good time. Avoid offering your child bribes for good behaviour or not crying as this is only a temporary solution. Learning to cope with sadness is an important part of your child’s development and learning about emotions.
Positive and Prompt Goodbyes
When you drop your child off, don’t linger in the classroom, or stay for “just one more minute.” As a parent, the best thing you can do is give your child a hug and a kiss at the door, let them know you love them, and reassure them that you will be back soon. It is important for your child, as well as the other children in the class, that you do not delay the inevitable.
Establish a Goodbye Routine
Montessori parents who establish a consistent goodbye routine typically have better luck with successful goodbyes. Take a special moment with your child to say goodbye, and do it the same way, every day. This may be as simple as a kiss and a cuddle, giving your child a thumbs up, or establishing a ‘secret’ hand shake. A special goodbye is a great way for your child to start their day feeling happy and reassured.
If your child has a special comforter, such as a toy or blanket, bring it with them to preschool. Over time, they are likely to need it less and less. An alternate to a comforter are special “love notes” in your child’s lunch box, or sending them to preschool with a photo of your family.
Make a point of getting to know your child’s friends or play mates at preschool, and encourage class-mate friendships outside of school. These friendships will help make your child’s transition to the new Montessori environment easier.
Pick Up Routines
It is important to be punctual when picking up your child. It easy to lose track of time, but no matter who is picking your child up, always be on time. If you are late, it can cause your child to feel more anxiety, and makes drop off the next time much harder.
Positive Daily Reflections
On the way home, establish a routine where you talk to your child about their school day. Focus on the positive aspects of their day, such as their favourite activity, or playing with their best friend. By consistently reinforcing the positive aspects of their school day, your child will learn that their new environment is a fun and happy place, and their feelings of anxiety will decrease over time.