Thursday, July 7, 2011

How do I help my 2 year old adjust to school?

Ms. Dorothy,
I am a working lady. My daughter is 2years and 4 months old, she is able to speak fluently in her mother tongue, and understands English as well. In my absence she is taken care by my Mother in law.
She got admitted to pre-kindergarten or nursery on 13th June. She goes to school in school van, her school timings are 8.30 am to 11.30 am, 5days a week. It’s been more than 2 weeks, but still cries a lot and reluctant to go school everyday. She wakes up in the morning and starts telling/crying “don’t want to go school” till she sits in school van.
I try to make her understand that school is a lovely place by telling many stories every night before getting sleep, but the next day morning it’s the same.
Even on off days i.e. Saturdays and Sundays, even after we tell her that. Saturdays and Sundays are holidays, making her ready as part of daily routine or plan to take out somewhere, she thinks that we might send her school, she is fearful and whole day very often she tells I don’t want to go school.
I spoke to her teacher; she says she is okay at school. She blames me that I am over anxious and over protective, that’s why my child is behaving so. But I don’t really admit.
Each day is getting a challenge for me. Please help me out to make my child comfortable to school.
-Concerned Mother

There are many reasons why children express fear about going to school.

The biggest worry is always that there is something happening at school which frightens her. An insensitive or neglectful teacher, a bully, even someone trying to do her harm. I can tell you that while this is every mother's greatest fear, it is very rarely the cause of a child's distress.

Chances are that the teacher is not blaming you as much as she is trying to reassure you of this fact.

Your daughter is probably safe and just fine in school as the teacher told you, but her fear and distress are also very real and should not be ignored.

By the age of 2, children are usually trying to figure out how to get what they want. Sometimes children your daughter's age become demanding, or throw tantrums, or tell people "no!" as they try to discover how to get their needs met. Your daughter may be expressing fear and trying to gain control of an uncomfortable situation.

While your daughter understands English, she may not be comfortable to express herself to people who do not speak her mother tongue. This could mean that the three hours she is in school feel very isolating to her. If she is not hearing the language that is most comfortable to her ears, those three hours can seem very long and distant.

She has also had the undivided attention of an adult up until now, and suddenly to have to share the only adult with other children in a class can be very hard for some children.

She may be experimenting with making you feel guilty, and trying to see if she can have her will. Or playing out behaviors she thinks are expected. Believe it or not, sometimes children think that they are expressing how much they love you when they cry about going to school, and that you might be disappointed if you thought they didn't miss you.

Sometimes children become distressed because they don't like letting a younger sibling have a parent's attention while they are not around.

There are some things you can do to help her with her worry about going to school.
What you are already doing - telling her stories to comfort her - is excellent, and you will need to be consistent and keep telling her about what a lovely place school is, and not let her see your concern.

Instead of talking about Saturdays and Sundays as holidays from school, try and talk about what sad days they are because she does not GET to go to school. If you are reassuring her in a way that makes her think school is something she has to tolerate, she may continue to resist it.
Stay positive and happy and excited when you talk about school.

When you see her at the end of the day, be excited to hear about the wonderful things she did.

Focus on how happy you are to hear about school and not on her distress.

You can also help her to choose something of yours (a necklace or bracelet that she can wear perhaps, or a photo of her loved ones) to bring with her to school. Something to hold onto when she misses you.

There is a book called "the Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn that can be helpful if your daughter is having trouble separating.

Find another family in the school to befriend and schedule play dates with.

Ask the teacher if you can donate a favorite toy of your child's to the classroom for her to look forward to playing with. 

Give her crayons and let her express her worries on paper.

One final thought - while it seems like it's been forever, two weeks is not impossibly long, and she may yet make this adjustment on her own, don't give up!

I wish you both the best of luck.