About a year and a half ago I decided to take my 2-year-old daughter out of her little school down the road. I was working from home and we had taken a similar route with my son a few years prior and it seemed to work well. At the time when my son was her age, I was working in corporate for a Microsoft Dynamics Partner in Johannesburg and my working hours and my commute was prohibitive in doing anything else at the time.

In the beginning all seemed fine

My little girl seemed to settle in quite quickly and we had the additional blessing of having my a friend from my sons Cub Scout group as his teacher. All seemed well (apart from the general disarray of getting her out through the door in the morning). We signed her up for ballet and soon enough she was spending a full day at school.

Then the meltdowns started

A few months into what I assumed was a smoot transition turned into a nightmare. It is worth mentioning that there had been some changes at the school including little girls favourite teacher moving to another city and obviously causing what was considered by my daughter as a material change in her comfort zone. The new teacher was lovely and the staff ever so accommodating but little girls’ screams of blue murder in the morning when we attempted to get her dressed, make her breakfast or even strap her into the car-seat was more than I could handle. By week three of painful tears (both from little girl and myself) I remember sitting on the floor of our bedroom bawling my eyes out and finally phoning my husband. I could not take her bitter crying and her dreadful unhappiness any longer… We are so blessed that we have a full-time nanny at home which helped a lot when I finally decided to keep her at home. She would thus spend the next year at home with me and our nanny and spent the afternoon with my son and his friend when they finished school.

Fast forward one year later

During the last few months following her fourth birthday little girl has been dropping subtle hints that she “also” wants to go to school. My stomach was in knots. I can see that she gets lonely and frustrated some days but I am forever grateful that she got to spend those extra days at home playing. It’s now been about two months of hints and I finally plucked up the courage to phone the owner of the Montesorri school that she used to attend and enquire whether they have a space available for next year… I received the confirmation via WhatsApp and I guess we are embarking on this journey again in 2020. I am this already planning for ways to make this transition a bit more subtle than our previous attempt. So here is a collection of 3 things I do to help my kids transition into new environments and situations:

Tip 1: Try a test run

Make a trip to the new class/Scout Hall/Ballet Studio (enter random new experience here) a few days before the actual day. Arrange with a teacher or caregiver to provide a quick tour or the environment and what to expect on the day (yes this might be much for a toddler) but explaining that there’s art, playtime, nap time and outside play makes it a bit easier to anticipate what is coming. Point out things of interest that they might like (“Did you notice that amazing slide outside?” or “Wow, such a beautiful garden filled with flowers” seems to distract my daughter enough to forget about her fears.

Tip 2: Stick to the same routine

My biggest downfall in attempting to get little girl settled in our school routine was my “knit-one-slip-one” approach. Some mornings I just could not cope with the screaming which meant I let her stay at home (or even stopped attempting to get her out of the house). That escalated the situation and meant that we never got into a rhythm of making preschool a predictable part of the routine. Mom freaking out also added to the anxiety and before we knew it we were both upset. Matt Cutts beautifully explains it in his Ted Talk that it takes 30 days for new habits to be created. Read that again.

By eliminating the routine I made it difficult for us to establish a routine.

Tip 3: Read all about it

Incorporating a conversation with your toddler is a great way of making the transition easier. There’s host of recommendations for kids books with separation anxiety as a theme. My favourite is Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney is an excellent starting point.

Strange new teacher.
Strange new toys.
Lots of kids and lots of noise!

What would Llama like to do?
Llama Llama feels so new . . .

It’s Llama Llama’s first day of preschool! And Llama Llama’s mama makes sure he’s ready. They meet the teachers. See the other children. Look at all the books and games. But then it’s time for Mama to leave. And suddenly Llama Llama isn’t so excited anymore. Will Mama Llama come back?

Of course she will. But before she does, the other children show Llama Llama how much fun school can be!

Can you share any other tips?

Have you tried another approach that worked well for your kids? Please share! I look forward to learning more about you! Drop me a line in the comments below…