Lessons in anxiety
ASK THE EXPERT: I am worried about my four year old starting a new Montessori in September. Last May and June, I started him four mornings a week in a playschool and there were problems going in each morning as he used to get very upset at the door when I left him.His worry about going would start the moment he got up in the morning, when he would immediately say he “didn’t want to go” and he would resist getting dressed and into the buggy and so on. His anxiety would build and he could start crying even before we arrived at the playschool. His teacher said that he settled quickly once I left and he was in the door, but it was still very stressful and I was glad when the summer break came. He has been happy enough at home for the summer and I have not mentioned that he has to start a new Montessori until last week when he got upset and said “I’m not going”.
I am worried that there will be problems again this year. I have tried to reassure him that it is a lovely preschool but he doesn’t listen. Do you have any tips for me to avoid the mornings becoming so difficult or what I can do if he refuses to go? I am starting a new part-time job in September in the mornings so staying at home is not an option.
It can be a big step for a child to start preschool and for some children it can take them a while to get settled into the routine, especially if they are used to being at home. Like your son last year, many children go through periods of being unsettled during the morning routine and can display separation anxiety particularly at the point of being dropped off.
Though hard to deal with, such anxiety is developmentally normal for a child of three or four and usually fades over time as they become secure and used to the new routine.
Periods of being unsettled can be triggered by many factors such as changes in the preschool routine, sickness or tiredness.
As in your case, in the majority of situations, although the children can be upset and display anxiety at the point of departure, they usually settle very quickly when the parent leaves and they get into the routine of the day with the support of an experienced teacher.
It is good that you are thinking how to prepare your son this year for starting his new Montessori and preparation can avoid problems.
The first thing to do is to plan a good morning routine that gives you and your son plenty of time to get ready. This can include getting him dressed before you bring him down, having plenty of time for breakfast and even having some playtime before you set out.
A good morning routine starts with a good early bedtime ensuring everyone is well rested. If your routine has got out of sync over the summer (later bedtimes and later rising), you may wish to gradually adjust this over the next few days until the start of the new term.
In talking to your son about the new preschool, it is normal enough that he initially might say, “I don’t want to go.” This gives you a clue that he might be still feeling a little anxious. At this point, I would back off from the conversation and come back to it later.