To Your Health: How to tackle those preschool anxieties
BY BARB MEAGHER AND KATHLEEN BRUMMET September 17, 2013 1:32PM
Barb Meagher | Supplied photo
Updated: October 19, 2013 6:46PM
Ready, set, go!
Yes, it is that time again. Yellow buses are rolling down our streets, fresh backpacks are zippered tight, and pens, pencils, crayons and markers are glistening new. Whether it is preschool or high school, our children are in the classrooms and the school year is off and rolling.
The new school year is a great opportunity to make a fresh start.
Many of our children have transitioned into preschool for the first time this year. Parents often wonder if their child is ready for the academic and social experiences within a school setting. This is an exciting time of new adventures and learning opportunities. There may be fear, excitement, tears, joy, and all these feelings in just one day.
Children seek structure, yet at times are unsure of their surroundings. They may struggle with separation anxiety; most preschool teachers are very accustomed to this and know how to make your preschooler comfortable.
In most cases, the tearful child is better within 15 minutes. Some take a bit longer; these tearful starts to the day may last a few days up to a couple of weeks. It is very typical and usually improves on its own.
Some helpful supports might include sending your child with a family photo to put in his or her locker or cubby, sending a familiar object from home to keep in a backpack, or setting up a motivation chart with stickers for good days.
Many preschoolers benefit from calendars in their home to help them understand when school days occur vs. days off and weekends. Calendars can be a full month or just one week at a time. Children should participate with markers or stickers to designate what activities will take place on each day. If possible, take a picture of the school and teacher to help facilitate positive conversations about school.
Some children may have difficulty getting ready for school and being on time. Some ideas that may benefit the family and streamline this chaotic time of day include designing a daily schedule board with a picture list of “get ready duties” such as “brush teeth, wash face, dress, eat,” etc.; allowing the child to choose clothing the night before; packing the backpack the night before; limiting computer/TV time; and using timers to keep children on track.
Healthy eating habits are critical for the preschooler. Empower energy for learning by providing your child with healthy snacks of fruit, vegetables and granola bars throughout the day. Water and natural juices are a good alternative for thirsty children. These healthy snacks provide the proper energy needed to facilitate academic opportunities for these active learners.
Sleep is critical in ensuring school success for your preschooler. It is recommended by experts in the field that preschoolers get between 10 and 13 hours of sleep each day. Some children this age are still napping. Naps should end by 4 p.m. to ensure a reasonable bedtime. Others are sleeping only at night and need an appropriate bedtime to sustain their attention, focus and mood throughout the day.
It is suggested that preschoolers sleep in their own bed when possible. A quiet and consistent bedtime routine should include a soothing activity such as a bedtime story. TV is not recommended at bedtime.
Preschool children learn through all their senses. They like to look, touch, listen, smell and move as they learn. They learn best through active participation using many modalities.
Reinforcing the topics and skills from school will benefit all children. Preschoolers enjoy learning alongside parents as they do everyday tasks. Children can be helpers in the kitchen with counting items such as utensils and food items. They will be practicing the math skill of counting with one-to-one correspondence.
Preschoolers like to go grocery shopping and can practice matching coupons to products, practice identifying colors in the vegetable aisle, and work on categorizing (fruits vs. vegetables vs. meats).
If time is a limiting factor in your home, the most important activity a parent can do is to READ to your child. Engage your preschooler in a book and allow him/her to label or point to objects or any words he or she may recognize, turn pages, retell the story, answer questions on each page, and create a story of his or her own using the same character(s).
Most important, have fun! This is an exciting time to empower your children to reach their full potential at school, home and through play.
Fair warning: The preschool years go way too fast!
Barb Meagher is a manager and Kathleen Brummet is an education specialist, both in the pediatric rehabilitation and development department at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn.