Starting preschool can be traumatic experience for your toddler, who is used to being at home with you or a caregiver.
So, it’s important that you cover these bases before starting preschool, to ensure that your little one has a smooth transition into child care.
Boost her health
You heard how your friends’ kids fell sick repeatedly after starting preschool. So, naturally, you’d want to boost your little one’s immune system.
Dr Wendy Sinnathamby, a specialist in paediatrics and consultant at Kids Clinic @ Mount Alvernia suggests a well-balanced diet, including a variety of vegetables and fruit, and of course water.
Teach her to wash her hands regularly with soap, too. You can also consider giving her a multivitamin supplement, especially if she’s a fussy eater and isn’t taking formula milk anymore, as well as a vitamin C with zinc supplement.
(Also read: Teach your child about good hygiene)
Tour the centre
Visiting it a few times with your kid before starting preschool can help ease her into unfamiliar territory, says Ruth Chia, a curriculum and programme manager at NTUC First Campus.
Show her around the classroom, lunch area and bathroom. If possible, do it during school hours. You can observe the preschool in operation and discuss your concerns with the teachers.
Your child can also explore and survey the class, but let her choose whether she wants to interact with the other children.
Talk positively about what the pupils are doing – highlighting things that especially interest her – and how much she’ll learn with her new teachers. It’s important to keep your own emotions in check. If you feel guilty or worried about leaving her at school, she’ll probably sense it.
“When you enter the classroom on the first day, calmly reintroduce the teacher to your child, then step back to allow the educator to begin forming a relationship with her. Your endorsement of the teacher will show your cutie that she’ll be happy and safe,” Ruth adds.
(Also read: Which preschool is right for my child?)
Keep vaccinations up to date
Has she received all the mandatory immunisations before starting preschool? If you aren’t sure, check the National Immunisation Registry’s records here.
You can also consider giving her optional ones like the rotavirus, chickenpox and influenza vaccines, says Dr Sinnathamby.
Do note that the rotavirus vaccine, which protects her against a highly contagious and common cause of serious diarrhoea, can only be given before she turns eight months old.
The flu vaccine only protects her against the latest strains of the influenza virus, and as such, she’ll still be susceptible to others that cause fever, runny nose and cough.
Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine for Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease (HFMD), a contagious viral infection.
Outbreaks happen every year at childcare centres. Your best bet is to teach your tot to maintain a high level of hygiene.
(Also read: What to do if your kid misses a scheduled vaccination)
Lessen separation anxiety
You’ve prepared her for preschool the way Ruth suggests. But chances are, your kid will still cry when you leave.
Deborah Ong, who’s the operations director of childcare centre Caelum Junior, says children aged between 18 months and four years tend to experience separation anxiety.
The degree will depend on the child’s personality. Some get over it in one week, while others need more time – although she has also met a two-year-old who didn’t experience it at all.
Deborah suggests that you stay with her for between an hour to half a day for the first two or three days, depending on how distressed she is.
“If she’s crying very badly and is clearly stressed, we’d advise parents to bring her home after half a day. They can do this for the next two days. Subsequently, they can choose to pick her up after her nap and tea break at around 4pm. This is to gradually ease her into the full-day programme by the following week,” she says.
After the third day, you should leave soon after dropping her off. The teachers need to bond with her, and it’s best done without you around.
(Also read: Kid cries at childcare drop-off: What you can do to help her settle better)
Prep at home
Plan more social activities, and read to her every day. These will help prepare her for starting preschool, Ruth says. But don’t make too big a deal out of them, as she may end up feeling more worried than excited.
Play time with other kids will help her get used to being part of a group, as well as build essential social skills like sharing, taking turns and playing cooperatively.
During pretend-play, she can take turns being the parent, child and teacher, and act out daily routines like singing songs, reading stories, taking naps and saying goodbye to Mummy and Daddy.
Resist saying things like “It will be the most fun place you have ever been” or “There is nothing to be afraid of”, Ruth advises. It belittles your child’s fears and concerns. Instead, let her know she can always speak to you or her teacher if she’s afraid or unhappy.
It’ll be tough saying your goodbyes, so Ruth suggests personalising a parting ritual between the two of you – for example, singing a special song together before you leave.
Children find the routine comforting, as it helps them to understand and prepare for what will happen next.
Ruth adds: “Always say a loving goodbye. But once you do, you should leave promptly. Never sneak out. As tempting as it may be, leaving without saying goodbye may make kids feel abandoned, whereas a long farewell might reinforce a child’s impression that preschool is a bad place.”
(Also read: 12 questions to ask when choosing a preschool)