Discover the Child

Discover the Child
"There is a tiny light in the unconscious of mankind which guides it toward better things." "We must follow the child, but we must follow the child as his leader." -Maria Montessori

Monday, August 19, 2013

Getting Off to a Good Start

In one week children will begin a new year at school. Every year we find ourselves reassuring worried parents who are nervous about the start of school and welcoming young toddlers who are ready to embrace a new community with a little bit of support. A calm, confident parent who approaching the start of school with a positive outlook and feeling of preparedness is the best support for a child embarking on a new school year. Keeping a few things in mind will help you support your child's new beginnings. 

The number one rule to remember when your child begins something new: 

Novelty is the currency of childhood. Spend it wisely. 

On the one hand, novelty is stressful for a child, but a child must be open to novelty in order to connect to a new environment or new experience because that is the critical element for learning and development. Neuropsychologist Alan Schore explains that, "efficient and resilient strategies for coping with novelty and stress," actually defines adaptive infant mental health. When an infant or toddler experiences too much novelty, he becomes overwhelmed and extremely rigid. He can't incorporate new experiences and you'll see meltdowns and hear the infamous, "No!" in response to almost anything. 

Keeping this, "Novelty is currency," mantra in mind for the start of the school year, there are a few things to keep in mind; 

  • This is the time to be a stickler about your daily routine. You can experiment with some flexibility around a daily routine after everyone is settled in to the new school routine. 
  • Adjust to the sleep schedule your child needs for school before the start of school. 
  • Don't go on vacation right before school starts if at all possible. If you can't get out of that last minute trip, make sure to carve out as much time as possible to return to a regular routine before beginning school. 
  • Novelty also includes a lot of sensory stimulation. Avoid overstimulating activities like television or bouncy inflatable warehouses that can empty your child's tank quickly.

Practice Separation

There are two people involved in separation, you and your child. Both of you need to be prepared. 
  • Let your child practice separating from you this week. Go somewhere that is safe for your child like a park nearby where you have been before. Set down a physical home base like a picnic blanket and busy yourself with reading a book. Stay positive and calm while your child separates from you at his own pace, leaving and returning as many times as he wants. 
  • Play simple games of hide and seek at home. 
  • Be mindful of your attitudes about separation. Your role as your child separates is to be an emotional anchor. You can read more about this on my previous blog post, Be an Anchor.
  • Create a separation routine together that you will practice each morning. Your child can decide if he wants one hug and two kisses or two squeezes, a kiss and a wave at the window. Stick to your routine and make the separation brief. Letting your child's teacher help soothe him demonstrates to your child that you trust he is well taken care of. You can even tell him ahead of time, "If you have a strong feeling about saying goodbye, your teacher is there to help you." 
  • Touch base with your child's teacher that she will call you if she cannot help soothe your child during the transition time so that you can feel confident about the separation, too. 

Support Emotional Resilience

Even if you didn't know it, you began wiring your infants emotional brain in the first few months of life. When you rocked and swaddled or cooed and bounced, you regulated emotional states for her. When you responded to her cues and made silly faces and spouted ridiculous strings of vowels, you helped support her ability to regulate her own emotional states. Scientists found that mothers' and babies' brain wave frequencies resonate in perfect patterns with each other in these moments of synchronicity, which is how brains build other brains!

  • Believe it or not, face-to-face time is still critical for your child's mental health and brain development. Make sure to carve out quiet time every day to set aside all of your worries and be fully present and connect with your child. Respond to her cues that signal she needs calmer, quieter interactions or more excited, enthusiastic reactions. 
  • Massage is a wonderful way to help your child integrate all of the sensory information of the day. Daily massage has shown to help children in almost all areas of functioning, even physical health. The Peanut Butter and Jelly Massage is one of our favorites. 
  • Support tough emotional challenges during the transition to school by empathizing with tough emotions in the moment, not just with your words, but also with your whole body. Once you've connected to your child's emotional brain, you can help support his more logical left brain functions. Run through a few highlights of your child's day saying, for example, "It can be hard to say goodbye and go to a new place, but there are a lot of fun things to do and your teachers care about you and are hear to help. You are going to have work time, snack time, and playground time, and then you'll get your purple bag and I'll see you at the gate." 
We sing a song with children that have a tough time with the morning separation. It uses this, "Connect Right, Engage Left" strategy described by Dan Siegel in the The Whole Brain Child
Morning Song (tune of Itsy Bitsy Spider)

It's hard to come to school but it's fun to stay and play, 
We work with our friends and then we're done all day.
Work time and snack time and playground time and
Then we get our purple bags and go to the bench. 

You can change the words to match your child's day at school

Have a great first day of school! 

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