It happens every year. The parents who toured the school with the most gregarious and independent child are shockingly “stuck” in the classroom with their child refusing to leave their lap. In fact, the child will not even make eye contact with the teachers without melting into a puddle of tears. Why is this happening? There is no way to predict how a child will transition from the familiarity of their home to the new environment at school. That said, there are a few things to keep in mind:
- Each child develops at a different rate. Social and emotional development wavers back and forth like a pendulum. Very independent (“I can do it MYSELF”) two’s will regress to a more needy, unsure place on a weekly basis. They struggle with the internal drive to grow and the reality that they need adults to not only meet their most basic needs, but also the fear that comes with moving from infancy into toddlerhood. The “Do-it-MYSELF” attitude is empowering, but terrifying. Early childhood educators know that the developmental continuum accounts for these highs and lows, accept it and are prepared to meet the child where they are on a daily basis.
- The ethos of a school environment is dramatically different from a play date or play group. In school there are rules, a schedule, strangers (aka teachers) AND other children to contend with. By nature, two year olds are social creatures. They are curious about other children, but often lack the cognitive structures to share, engage and control their motor impulses. We categorize this stage as an egocentric one for a good reason- they really would rather play with an adult or by themselves alongside one or two other children rather than mix it up with a big group. Forcing them to do so is contrary to the nature of the child. However as they grow and develop, a school experience scaffolds social development and pulls them into the next stage: the place where school is fun!
- Sometimes we expect too much. Parents often try to choose their child’s friends, often insisting that their own closest friend’s child become their child’s best friend. Children this age may have an affinity for another child, but can’t really establish the roots of a true friendship. It is easier for the child to choose peers with similar energy levels, language skills and interests than to try and meet the adult expectation that they have a built in friend from home. We suggest that parents and caregivers afford the child this choice and avoid pressuring them into playing with one particular child. It’s ok to have “home friends” and “school friends.”
- Trust. The most important element of separation is to establish a trusting, honest relationship with the classroom teachers. Avoid comparison to others and believe that your child will get where they need to be developmentally. Our educators are experts in the field of early childhood education and work hard to send your child messages of competency. Be on board! Speak with the classroom teachers, take their advice, reach out to the school director and trust that it will be a very good experience sooner than you think.
We are here to support children and families, especially during the phase-in period. Think positively – you may have an easy separation. However be prepared for some tears (yours and theirs), hang on and know that your child is in good, loving hands.
There will be a separation workshop for all Early Learning Foundations and York Avenue Preschool Parents on Wednesday, September 3 at 8 a.m.