Saturday, September 11, 2010

Preparing my 'slow-to-warm up' toddler for Preschool: Part 1

As I've written this I've realized that this post requires a lot of introduction. So in my attempt not to bore people to death I'm going to write it in two parts. Part 1: Introduces you to Colin's particular brand of 'Slow-to-Warm Up'  and Part 2: Preparing Colin for Preschool. I suppose Part 3 will be a follow up on how well this preparation worked.

Right around Colin's first birthday I became confident enough in my assessment of Colin's temperament to write about it here.  Colin is older now, and his ability to communicate his needs are better, but the temperament is the same. He takes a little bit longer to adjust to new situations and people than most kids. Since Colin is my first child, it is often easy to forget that his reactions aren't 'typical'. I've heard lots of stories of children just like him so it is easy to project and think all kids react this way. You can imagine my surprise when we showed up at Colin's preschool orientation. The vast majority of the children were running around playing, their parents 'out of sight-out of mind', while Colin was glued to my side, or sitting in my lap.  For the first half hour he wasn't even conflicted about it, this was a room full of everything a toddler could want to play with, but if I wasn't near the toys he didn't give them a second glance. The best way to describe it is that when he first enters a situation he can't see beyond the 'unfamiliarity' of it all to see any individual object or person. It is as if his brain gets overloaded and he can't process things efficiently. Slowly and deliberately he will observe from a safe distance and eventually his interest will be piqued by something and that is when he starts to be conflicted. This means there is a lot of pulling and prodding to get me to go with him to explore whatever object has captured his attention. Generally I entertain his need to have me close for a while but the biggest challenge with this temperament is finding the right balance between making him comfortable and pushing him to increase his confidence and widen his comfort zone.  Colin's biggest issues (at least right now) are:
  1. Unfamiliar people in familiar locations (that don't usually have lots of people)
  2. Unfamiliar locations with lots of unfamiliar people (particularly children who are less predicatable)
Even if Colin is in his own home (or another place he knows well), adding a new person to this location unexpectedly causes him to get nervous and not venture too far from me or too near to the new person. The weirdest part is that certain people really set him off and other people don't. It would make sense if people who set him off were odd looking or distinguishable in some way but usually its is the most benign of individuals who he has the most trouble with.
It isn't simply unfamiliar locations that make him nervous. We travel a lot and very often we have to walk into a new place and put him to bed. He has never freaked out (granted we bring his 'sleep environment' with us but still...) It is also not simply unfamiliar people alone. There are many situations we run into (grocery shopping, the post office, the hallways of our building) where he is very friendly with strangers.  He, totally unprompted, told the postal clerk to 'have a nice day' the other day and then reached out of the shopping cart to grab an old lady's hand at Target.
However, preschool is the tri-fecta of situations that freak Colin out.
  1. Lots of unfamiliar adults, particularly ones who are keen on interacting with him
  2. Unfamiliar location.
  3. Lots of other children (which means lots of noise and lots of chaos)
This just means I have had to work extra hard... Exactly what I've done to prepare him is coming in the next post...


Elaine and Brandon Carder said...

I think you are so ahead of the game in being understanding of his hesitations at times but acknowledging that he is not limited by them either. When we came, he warmed up right away and because you and Sean expose him to so many opportunities and experiences, it allows him to continue to build his understanding of situations and people.

Also--I think you have done a lot of the ground work for years now with taking him to classs, swimming and music (as well as others) which has been great. Will you be able to stay at preschool or is the school strict about dropping off at the front door and they will handle any meltdown (not saying his..but any child in general)?

Can't wait to hear about it.

Julie said...

this post reads like a case study! you are so smart, i wish i could write as well as you do!

i hope that colin has an easy transition to school, and that his teachers and classmates get to see how smart and friendly he is.

Erin said...

You're so understanding and patient with this. Good for you for maintaining your patience and really working to do what is best for Colin. I don't know that I would have had the patience to do the same!