When a child starts school for the first time, it is likely that both child and parent will experience mixed feelings. It's normal on one hand for the child to feel positive and excited about the adventure of a new environment, to be attracted to the other children and the interesting things to do at school, and it's normal for parents to want their child to have the playmates and the social and intellectual stimulation that school can provide. It is also inevitable for both to have some negative feelings right along with the positive ones.
The child may feel afraid that she is not safe without the parent, anxious about controlling herself and somewhat lost without familiar boundaries to rely on. She may even wonder if she is still loved and feel some anger because of this new anxiety. The sadness at being parted for a child from the parent may come rushing over her at the moment she says, "goodbye" at the school door. All of these feelings are combined with positive excitement and high expectations.
You may have many of the same negative feelings. You have arrived at the decision carefully, convinced that a Montessori school is just what your child needs and perhaps looking forward to a little freedom for the first time in a dew years. When the moment actually comes, you too may be filled with uneasiness. This is especially true if your child looks downcast, expresses some discomfort or cries. You may be thinking: "Do the teachers here really know what they are doing?" "How will they respond to my child's fears?" "Maybe he really is too young for school." "Why should I force him to go to school at three years old?" It is quite possible that even deeper unconscious insecurities may reside under this surface layer of discomfort. During the past few years this child may have defined your identity as "parent." Now he is growing up. Who will he be now? The house will seem empty without him. You will miss him and perhaps feel a bit lonely at first. "Have I/we done my/our job well?" "Will he measure up to the others?"
In short, both parent and child are experiencing feelings of fear, sadness, and anger associated with separation. Recognizing these feelings and resolving them may be the most important task to be accomplished all year. Facilitating this first separation is an important step in your child's emotional development since it may be the prototype for all the others that will follow in his or her lifetime. Only the child who feels relaxed and comfortable can afford to be intellectually open to the environment the school has to offer. Teachers and parents who understand the confusion as well as the connections between dependency and attachment are better prepared to be effective partners in the child's growth. Your child is making an effort to progress, grow, and explore new activities beyond the parent-child relationship. It is our role as parents and teachers to assist her.
What happens if after all your good planning, the big day arrives and your child begins to cry or complains of being sick? Sometimes this doesn't occur until the child has been in school for weeks or even months. Parents should remind themselves that the child should go, even though tears may flow. Don't be surprised. We are not. The staff knows what to do.
The crucial moment is the point of separation between parent and child. If a problem arises, the teacher will help you. Demonstrate your trust by smiling, saying goodbye and promptly leaving. The teachers are prepared to handle this situation. Your leave-taking will demonstrate your trust in them and will be reassuring to your child. Once the moment of separation is over, the child usually recovers quickly and has a successful day. If you need reassurance, we welcome your phone call in the morning. A successful integration into the classroom is a milestone for your child. He will benefit from the experience and continue to grow intellectually and socially.
WHAT TO DO
Be Honest About Your Feelings
Give Support With Your Positive Expectations
Give Special Attention At Home For Awhile
When You Pick Her Up
Ask For What You Want
Don't make the beginning of school a topic of daily conversation as the school year approaches.
Don't allow older children, adult relatives or friends to tease or frighten younger children with tales of how awful school is.
Don't set a pattern of prolonging goodbyes or delayed departures for the purpose of ensuring that your child is adjusting. This simply will prolong the adjustment period. We welcome you to observe any time once the separation period is over.
Don't force the child to be exuberant about school. It is natural for a child not to be ecstatic about giving up a comfortable and safe relationship at home for the uncertain territory at school. Allow her to express her feelings about school, but don't give the impression there is any choice in going.
Don't assume that all the anxiety associated with beginning school is the child's anxiety. Parents may experience some of their own. Try to separate your anxiety from that of your child. Tension and worry are highly contagious. Acknowledge and accept these feelings, then relax and share your feelings with a friend.
Do treat school as a part of the normal course of events.
Do tell her what her schedule will be, how many days she will go to school, how many hours, when you will return and what you will be doing while she is in school. Gradually incorporate names of individuals she will encounter at school. Some children even like to name the streets they ravel each day on their way to school.
Do make transportation plans clear and consistent, i.e. "Today I will take you to school, but tomorrow Tommy's mom will take you." "Daddy will pick you up today at 12 o'clock."
Do pick your child up on time. A change in schedule can be frightening to young children, especially before their new experiences become consistent.
Do create a normal, routine atmosphere at home, especially during the first few weeks of school.