Posted on: 01.02.2023.
The departure of a child to a nursery or kindergarten represents an important event in the life of the whole family. Feelings like excitement and joy, but also concern and fear are quite common in this situation.
Childcare adjustment is a process in which the child adapts to a new space, to new people like teachers and other children, and to the rules that are followed in preschool. As a child goes through a major life change, changes in behavior, perception, and overall functioning are common. The average length of transition to kindergarten is about 15 days to a month. However, the length of the adjustment is individual and some children adjust easily to new circumstances, while others need more time. It can be said that the child adjusted to kindergarten when he established good communication and close socio-emotional relationships with educators.
Some of the potential changes in the child during the adjustment process are changes in normal eating and sleeping habits, where the child may refuse to eat or sleep. Then the child may experience regression in behavior, i.e. a return to the previous stage of development that he has passed. This may include pulling, crying, urinating again in diapers, crawling, in search of a pacifier, etc. All these changes are normal and are not a reason for parents to worry. However, even after a long period, say three to four months, the child still shows difficulties in adaptation it is important to consult a professional person and preschool teachers.
The moment of adaptation depends on the age of the child, the development stage they are in, previous experiences of separation from the caregiver, the child's characteristics, and any stressful events they may have experienced in their life. Parental responses to separation also play a significant role. If the parent has a positive attitude towards kindergarten and the child develops a safe attachment and adequate coping mechanisms with stress, this will greatly facilitate the child's adjustment.
Before the child begins kindergarten, it is recommended that the child gradually get used to the separation of parents. For instance, parents may leave the child with their grandparents or other people known to the child for a short period, which will allow the child to live through the separation, and therefore to gain confidence in the absence of parents. It is also important to allow the child to develop social skills through socialization with peers so that it is easier for him or her to adjust to other kids and make friends at kindergarten. Children should be encouraged to share things and toys, cooperate in play and be patient waiting for their turn. It is advisable to work with children on autonomy according to their age. It is important to give a child an opportunity to practice eating with a spoon, drinking in a glass or dressing alone, donning shoes, washing hands, and cleaning toys.
Furthermore, before going to kindergarten, it is necessary to talk with the child about what they will do there, whom they will meet and hang and the time they spend there. If you notice that the child is anxious and fearful of going to kindergarten, it is not advisable to say not to be afraid or cry. It is extremely important to accept the child's feelings and to show that you understand them so that the child can properly express his or her feelings. It's important to talk to your child about kindergarten as a positive experience, but it's also important that you don't make unrealistic, happy commitments in kindergarten and say they will make new friends immediately. It is preferable to stick to information on activities that can be expected in kindergarten, such as playing, eating, sleeping, and meeting new children.
At the start of kindergarten, it is important for parents to go through the adjustment period with the child, rather than, for example, grandparents. This means that parents should take their child to kindergarten, spend the first few days with them in a group for as long as and if necessary, and gradually increase the time the child spends in nursery school. While it is hard for most parents to leave their child at kindergarten, it is important not to show anxiety in front of them, so that the child does not think the situation is difficult and stressful, as then he will probably react in this way. When you leave the child, you should say goodbye in a joyous, short, and friendly mood.
Sometimes, after a rapid and successful adaptation, a child may develop a subsequent aversion to kindergarten, and then these are delayed coping difficulties. The child can expect kindergarten to be only temporary, and when they realize that they will be there for a long time after some time, they may be afraid. It is important to talk about it with the child, but also to ask for assistance from the teacher or the kindergarten professional service.
If separation from the child is a stress which is hard to manage for the parents, it is a good idea to ask for help from the closest people or to talk to a professional to facilitate the adjustment process for them and the child.
Written by: Marica Marasović, mag.psych., Center for Mental Health MBM PSY