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.

Young Parents (Singapore) - - The Right Start Issue -

“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.

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