Monday, September 13, 2010

Preparing my 'slow to warm up' toddler for Preschool: Part 2

Now that you know a little bit of Colin's history as a 'Slow to warm up' child. Here is what I have been doing to prepare Colin for preschool:

First the stuff we have been doing ahead of time.
  1. Talk about it! We discuss the concept of 'school' quite a bit, typically multiple times a day. I really try to work it into whatever we are doing. For example, if we are coloring I'll tell Colin that he will probably get to color pictures at school with his new friends and teachers.  If we walk or drive by the school, I will point it out and tell him that is where he is going to school. I think it goes without saying that I use a very positive and excited voice when I'm doing this.  I really try to hammer home the concept (and give him catch phrases) that "Mommy will leave you at school but then...Mommy will come back!" He will now tell me (while pointing his index finger) that 'mommy will come back'. I've also tried to tell him that some kids might be sad, and if he is sad too that is okay, he just needs to remember that mommy will come back, and while he is waiting for me he can have fun with his friends and teachers. I also emphasize that his buddies will be at school too.
  2. Have play-dates with the kids who will be going to school. I have really made a point to schedule Colin to play with the kids he will see at school. Kip, Leo, Roxanne, etc. This way there are some familiar faces in the crowd and not so many strange children. Like I said in the previous post, children are not always the comfort you would expect them to be, particularly large numbers of children.
  3. Visit the school. Fortunately the school runs a summer program so Colin and I were able to visit one morning and take lots of pictures.  I put those pictures in an album and we look at the album and talk about everything and everyone frequently. I really hope this helps, there are a few toys (particularly a large firetruck multi-kid ride on) that he sees in the pictures and gets really excited about. Hopefully the chance to play with those toys will help distract him from the fact that I'm not around. We also visited during the orientation last week and he got to see the school again, while that was a bit overwhelming for him because there were so many people around, it did give him time to interact with the space without the stress that I would leave. 
  4. Get him a backpack. A 2-yr old likely does not need a backpack for preschool. However, I thought it was important for Colin to have one. It is a something he has total possession over but that is related specifically to school.  I want him to carry it to school and put his own choice of comforting items in there. I have no idea if the items will be needed or ever even taken out, but it seems like a good way to solidify in his mind that we are 'going to school'. I think it will be part of our routine for him to 'get his backpack' when it is time to go to school 
  5. Expose him to as many different situations as possible. This is not something I did specifically with pre-school in mind, but I did do it intentionally knowing Colin's temperament.Things like, MyGym, music classes, swimming lessons, the Preschool Place at the NY Hall of Science, being babysat by Dawn, traveling etc.  If we kept him cloistered in the house all the time, I would go crazy he would never have the opportunity to push his own limitations.
Now the plan for how we will 'warm' Colin up to preschool once we get there.
  1. Arrive early!  I am planning on getting Colin to school at least 15 minutes before he is supposed to be there. I'm hoping this will allow him time to see the room without the intimidation of all the other children.
  2. Stick around. At least for the first day, I'm not planning on leaving for more than maybe 15 minutes. If he walks right in and acts like he owns the place, I'll obviously just leave but I don't anticipate that happening. I'm going to watch him closely and try to time my exit to match his comfort.
  3. Tell him I'm leaving and how long I'll be gone. A big thing with this temperament is to never try to sneak out. It would cause even more anxiety if he thought I was going to disappear at any given moment. I also will tell him on the first day that I will be back in 15 minutes, and then come back in 15 minutes regardless of how he is doing. If he isn't doing well, he won't have suffered long and he also won't think I'm coming back because he is upset. Does he have a good concept of 15 minutes? No not really but he knows it isn't that long, we have talked about this as well. 
  4. Depending on how well he does I'll be gradually increasing the time I'm gone. I 'hope' to go from 15 mins to 45, then 90 then the full three hours. So by the start of the third week I should be able to drop him off and go. If he is doing well that time table will slow down but if he is doing great it will speed up. 
I know that to most people this probably seems silly and a 'better' plan would be just to 'ripe off the band-aid' and let him work it out.  There are two reasons this won't happen. 1) Everything I've read about the 'slow to warm up temperament' says that this is a bad idea because it will prolong the period of time it takes the child to get comfortable (or just backfire altogether and cause him to get 'kicked out'). 2) It isn't my parenting style, at least it isn't my style-of-parenting-Colin. I've seen other kids Colin's age get upset when their mother leaves, only to be clearly faking it, or get over it quickly.  Colin has never done that. He has never cried when I leave him. That has a lot to do with  me not leaving him in situations where he isn't comfortable, but the times he does get upset, it is after I've been gone, and when it happens there is no way to distract him from 'wanting Mommy'. He might be good for a minute or two but he looses it all over again.  TV is sometimes an acceptable distraction but that can only be used for so long and obviously not at preschool.

That is it! I have done everything I could possibly think of to help him adjust as quickly as possible. Now it is up to him to instruct me on how to proceed from here.  Erin commented that she wasn't sure she would have the same level of patience if one of her boys had this temperament. I think we all play the hand we are dealt to the best of our ability, and to be honest, it seems (to me) like small potatoes compared to getting up with your toddlers at 5am every day (I think you win the patience award on that one Erin!)

Wish us luck!


Erin said...

I will be interested to see how things go on Thursday. And more than how Colin does, I will be interested in how YOU do. I wonder if part of the anxiety over how Colin will feel is partially to cover up the anxiety YOU feel about him starting school? Maybe? Or maybe I am entirely off base, I don't know. I can just imagine that when it is time for the boys to go back to daycare, it will be easier for me personally to focus on their transition so I dont' have to think about how I'm feeling about it.

I do think I would go with the "rip the bandaid off" approach -- but I'd also never heard of the different personality styles (nope, never took psych) until you wrote about it last year. And I can see why you wouldn't want that approach, just seeing how Colin reacted to Roy when he was in a semi-familiar place (our house) with semi-familiar people (me and Sam and Ben).

Ha -- I certainly do not win any patience awards, but thanks. :)

Elaine and Brandon Carder said...

I 100% believe you know Colin better than anyone else, I just have not seen that side of him. I have seen him few times so I would not guess he is slow to warm up because he was so personable and friendly and did not seem apprehensive at all. Granted you and/or you and Sean were there. Again---I am not doubting at all what you are saying but I guess for me it makes me feel very positive that he will do wonderful at school.

Being that I work in a school, I have seen many kindergarten meltdowns when it is the start of school and moms are not welcome to stay. We do the "rip off the band aid" approach. I had one child who had complete meltdowns for about 2 weeks, but it was because he was prepared for one school and then a week before school started, moved and came to our school which was an all day program his dififculty was the expectations he was given did not match our reality. Once he understood the new reality, he was able to cope with the day and I have seen him since then in the halls and LOVES school.

I think you are doing the right thing, even if he was not a slow to warm up kid in continuing to explain school because it is a new concept and can be overwhelming for even a quick to warm up kid.

Can't wait to hear about it goes.

Sneks said...

So when is the big day?? I wish Colin (and you) luck! I know he'll love it (eventually), because both his parents are so studious!