All caregivers— both parents and teachers— need to know that neuroscience tells us that the most important function of the brain is seeking safety. Learning is secondary and happens only when the child feels safe. The child has formed attachments with the primary caregivers since birth. Now, to feel safe in a new environment, the child needs to form new attachments. Expecting the child to transition from one stage to the next quickly is unreasonable. We adults need to recognise how frightening this can be for the child and put in every effort to help the child feel comfortable with the new caregivers.
What can we parents do, to ease the child’s anxiety about the separation?
We could start preparing the child a month or two in advance and introduce the concept of ‘school’. Visit the school, a few times if possible with the child. It is helpful to the child if he or she can meet their teacher in advance. Take a picture of the teacher to show the child.
On school days, we can start the day early with a lot of cuddles and emotional bonding, so that the whole process of getting ready for school and leaving home is unhurried and thus less stressful. We could explain to them each day what is going to happen in school. Be honest that we wouldn’t be able to stay at school with them. We can reassure them that we will always come back.
If possible, reaching the school early and sitting with the child at school before sending the child off to class helps the child cope better with the separation.
When we pick them up at the end of the day, giving them undivided attention and genuinely listening to them without any distractions, helps them feel safe. Having the confidence that we will always be there for the child when the child comes back helps ease the anxiety over separation.
We could help the children process the feelings they are going through. When we say things like ‘What is there to cry about?’ or ‘Don’t be a baby’, it makes the child feel that we don’t understand them. It would help the child if we say, ‘I know you feel sad to be away from Amma. I wish I could be in the school with you. I cannot come in but I will be here to pick you up as soon as you come out.’ Children can cope with their feelings when they are allowed to talk about them. Just knowing that their parents understand that this is hard for them somehow helps them deal with the change.
Keeping this in mind how can the schools help the children during this transition period?
Introducing the teachers before school reopens and allowing a parent to stay for a couple of days in the class with the child will help. Once the child enters the class environment, it will be greatly beneficial if the teacher could just spend a minute connecting with the child, letting the child know that they are happy to see them, showing interest in the child, holding the child and carrying them if needed. It makes the child feel secure. When the child develops an attachment with a teacher, it should be nurtured. Do these steps guarantee that the child won’t cry or will transition quickly to school? No, they don’t. What they do, is make the transition as easy as possible for the child, while maintaining the secure attachment with the parent. When the parent does not prepare the child or tricks them with distraction, the child loses trust in the parent and cries more. Preparation, honesty and acknowledging the child’s feelings helps the child view the world and their experiences away from us in a positive way.
—The author is a certified parent educator with Parenting Matters, an organisation which empowers parents to build deeper connection in families. To know more about our programs and workshops, look us up www.parenting matters.in