Separation anxiety, bullies and other preschool blues
Preschool is rarely a smooth journey for children. SASHA GONZALES asks the experts how to handle the most common dilemmas, from separation anxiety to having trouble making new friends.
“My kid has separation anxiety and can’t bear to leave my side when I drop her off at school.”
“Starting a new preschool can be positioned as an exciting change rather than a fearful change,” says Coreen Soh, deputy general manager at The Little SkoolHouse International.
“So, tell your child all about the positives of going to school, but also make sure that she’s prepared for the negatives. Identify various plus points about the school and show how these align with her interests.
“To help with the transition from home to preschool, bring your child to the orientation session and allow her to participate in pre-enrolment activities.”
Another way to minimise her anxiety is to talk to her about her new schedule and work with her to create a chart that details this new routine.
In addition, help her look forward to her new routine by going shopping for a new school bag, water bottle and other essentials with her; coming up with ideas for snacks that she can take to school; and discussing all the fun activities that will be taking place when term starts.
“Remember, too, that kids are greatly influenced by their parents’ emotional state, so be calm when you drop her off and pick her up,” Coreen adds.
“And if you’ve promised to pick her up at a certain time, keep your promise and don’t be late, as this will only cause her unnecessary panic and add to her anxiety.”
“My kid is scared about being in a new environment – how can I reassure him that he’s safe?”
It’s an unfamiliar environment for your little one, so it’s only natural for him to feel out of place. It doesn’t help being surrounded by kids and adults he doesn’t know, either.
But Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness says that after a couple of weeks, your child will start to feel more comfortable and his anxiety will probably disappear.
“What you can do to minimise the problem in the meantime is let your child spend time in the school before term starts,” he advises.
“Organise a school tour or attend an open house, during which he can meet his teachers and familiarise himself with the classrooms, play areas and so on.
“Get him excited about spending time in this new space, reassure him that he’ll have fun with his new classmates, and tell him all about the school.
“The point is to get him used to the idea of being there. Some kids may benefit from going to school for just a short duration in the initial few days of term. Gradually increase the duration as they start to feel more comfortable.”
Patricia Tay, senior principal at Kinderland, says that if the fear of leaving home is the reason behind your child’s phobia, it might be a good idea to choose a preschool closer to home. This will give your child a sense of comfort.
“How can I make it easier for my child to wake up early for school?”
According to Dr Theodric Lee, a paediatrician at Thomson Paediatric Centre @ Jurong East, preschoolers aged three to six years old need between 10 and 12 hours of sleep a day, including naps.
“If this means putting your child to bed earlier the night before, make the change gradual, because it’s easier to delay bedtime and sleep later than to go to bed earlier.
“The way to shift bedtime earlier is to put your child to bed 15 minutes earlier every two days. Therefore, to shift bedtime from 10pm to 9pm, it would take about eight days.
“It would be wise to plan these changes in advance, then once this early bedtime has been established, make sure your child sticks to it.”
Dr Lee adds that preschoolers should be given
“Kids are greatly influenced by their parents’ emotional state, so be calm when you drop her off.”
opportunities to nap every day, as this promotes good quality sleep at night.
“However, remember that children should wake up from their nap with at least four hours of awake time before night-time sleep. If not, it will be difficult for them to fall asleep at the intended bedtime.
“So, if your child’s intended bedtime is 9pm, you should wake him up from his nap no later than 5pm.”
A relaxing pre-bedtime routine is important to help your little one fall asleep easily, and once you’ve set a routine, don’t contradict it, says Dr Henry Toi, dean at Mulberry Learning.
“So, for instance, if the routine includes a warm bath and a change into pyjamas before going to bed, don’t let your child play with stimulating toys or go to the playground after his bath.
“Instead, play soothing music and dim the lights to make the atmosphere more conducive to sleep. Reading him a bedtime story helps, too.”
“My kid told me that he dislikes one of his teachers.”
Patricia of Kinderland says to stay calm and hear him out.
“Listen to what he says about the teacher and validate his feelings but don’t appear overly concerned.
“For example, you could say, ‘It seems that you’re upset with your teacher. How can we make this easier for you?’.
“It’s important not to undermine his feelings with phrases like, ‘Your teacher is not as scary as you think’ or ‘You can’t be that scared’, because he may start to doubt his own emotions and have second thoughts about expressing himself.”
Initiate a meeting with the school’s principal so that you can discuss ways to address the problem objectively, Patricia adds.
“At Kinderland, for example, we encourage parents to look for opportunities to talk to the teacher in the presence of the child, when they drop their child off in the morning and pick him up later in the day. This may help allay any pre-existing fears the child may have.”
Another idea is to forge better connections with the teachers. Patricia suggests helping your preschooler make a card for his teachers. This will not only make him feel closer to them; it’ll also help him look forward to attending preschool the next day.
“My kid is accidentprone and keeps hurting herself at school. How do I put a stop to this?”
You can’t completely stop her from getting hurt, but there are steps you can take to minimise her risk. For one, teach her to follow instructions.
“Teach her to stop, look and listen when her name is called, and when an adult says no, she needs to know to react accordingly by stopping whatever she’s doing,” Patricia says.
Second, don’t just tell your child not to do something; rather, explain the dangers to her, so that the message registers. Third, roleplay scenarios with your child to help her put into practice what she’s learnt.
If your kid falls frequently, take her to the podiatrist to check if she has flat feet, says Patricia. The doctor will then be able to advise how to create a play-safe environment to minimise your child’s risk of an accident.
What you shouldn’t do is place too many restrictions on your child’s outdoor play, says Dr Toi of Mulberry Learning.
“Emerging research suggests that this hinders children’s development. Instead of saying, ‘Be careful!’ – it’s the least helpful thing you can say to a child – say, ‘Try moving your feet slowly’ (you’re suggesting a strategy), ‘Notice the tree roots on the ground’ (you’re suggesting she be more aware of her surroundings) or ‘Someone is on the swing, walk further away so you will not get hit’ (you’re suggesting an alternative strategy).”
Patricia says to avoid being over-protective so that your child learns to pick herself up after an accident. “Children are naturally curious and active, so it’s crucial that they recover from the incident themselves. This also helps with their physical development.”
“I worry for my little one, who is constantly falling sick in childcare. How can I make sure he's better protected?”
Childcare centres take every precaution to make their spaces safe, clean and hospitable for children.
However, you should be
prepared for your little one to suffer from “childcare sickness”, especially during the first few months, says Vivien Lui, principal of Learning Vision Paya Lebar (Lifelong Learning Centre).
“Young children have weak immune systems to begin with, but it’s also unavoidable for diseases to spread, such as when kids touch contaminated surfaces and then put their fingers into their mouths.”
To protect him, Vivien suggests partnering with the school to give your kid a balanced, nutrient-rich diet, which will help strengthen his immune system.
Second, teach your little one good hygiene habits, like washing his hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before meals.
If his classmate is sick, increase the frequency of the hand washing and make sure he showers and changes his clothes when he arrives home.
Finally, says Vivien, do continue sending him to school if he’s not running a fever or doesn’t have a contagious disease – this is the only way to build up his immunity.
“My kid doesn’t have any friends in preschool – how can I encourage her to be more sociable?”
You can start by teaching her to “break the ice” by introducing herself to the other kids in class and asking politely if she can play with them or join their activity, says Coreen. Alternatively, encourage her to invite others to play with her.
Vivien adds that making new friends involves using both the right body language and language skills.
It also includes basic friendship maintenance strategies such as offering to help or share, taking turns, negotiating, and learning to admit one’s mistakes. These skills do not come quickly to all children.
“Research suggests that parents play a significant role in teaching their kids how to make friends,” says Vivien.
“Popular kids have been found to have socially acceptable behaviour, empathy and moral reasoning.”
So, teach your little one to greet classmates warmly by name, teach her good manners, show her how to initiate a conversation and remind her not to hog conversations.”
Coreen says that you can also teach your child about friendship using picture books or stories that teach values such as empathy, consideration, graciousness and care.
“Don’t force your child to be friends with everyone,” Vivien adds. “Not everyone ‘clicks’. Let her mingle with the kids she’s most comfortable with.”
If your kid's classmate is sick, make sure Junior washes hands frequently, and showers and changes clothes when he gets home.