A big step for a child and parents

Elia is 5 years old and is the oldest of three siblings. After the holidays, she will finish the first year of kindergarten in a rural kindergarten. Although he and his two siblings go to kindergarten once a week and have been attending classes regularly for the past two years, Elia seems a bit torn about going to kindergarten. On the one hand, he is proud that he will soon be one of the big schoolchildren and that he will be able to wear a preschool belt, on the other, he is afraid to go to kindergarten without mom and dad. Elia doesn’t like it when you talk to him about his anticipation of going to kindergarten. On the other hand, she likes to go to bed before going to bed with her parents for a fun preschool book. This evening ritual and the resulting conversations give Elia a sense of security.

Processes of significant change

Entering the kindergarten is called transition. It is an event that brings significant changes for those affected. The transition requires a new orientation that includes establishing new relationships and breaking away from caregivers. In most cases, the latter causes intense emotional experiences in children, including strong stress reactions. No wonder, since the baby is usually the first time to leave the protective primary frame of reference of the nuclear family. Currently, there is a constant change between the two areas of life. If your child frequently visits the Nursery, this transition may sometimes be earlier. Nevertheless, the transition from nursery to kindergarten is a step towards a child’s autonomy that should not be underestimated. Suddenly, he is faced with a lot of new things that are technically referred to as “condensed development requirements.” New responses to these different requirements are emerging, resulting in intensive learning processes.

Children react very differently

Reactions to entering kindergarten are as varied as the children. Many people are looking forward to starting kindergarten several months in advance and are happy to talk about it. But right before that, some children are increasingly looking for their parents. This can lead to severe clinging that can disturb parents. This children’s appeal for safety usually wears off after a few days or weeks. On the other hand, other children only realize at the end of the group and / or kindergarten play that there will be an exciting new phase after the holidays. The specific interest in entering kindergarten therefore focuses on these children only shortly before that. The anticipation and the tension associated with a great event are all the greater. But there are also some children who find it particularly difficult to change. They are generally very cautious, timid, and evasive. Everything new scares them and they need more time to engage with the unknown. When this behavior occurs over a long period (often in early childhood), it is referred to as “behavioral inhibition.” These are temperamental traits, not disease. According to the current state of research, every sixth child in preschool age is affected. Behavioral inhibition also has positive sides, for example, sick children are very careful about their surroundings to be able to assess them as accurately as possible. Their mindfulness protects them from injury and unnecessary risk. Parents of children with behavioral inhibitions often feel a great deal of anxiety when they experience what can trigger even the smallest changes in their child. It is often difficult for those around them to understand the plight of such children and their parents. It is not uncommon for affected parents to be “branded” as being overly protectionist and affectionate. Good advice or legal instructions from third parties can also worry parents and are therefore counterproductive. It is more helpful to have a kind ear and understanding for the worries and fears of the affected parents. However, if the suffering of children and parents becomes too great, it may be helpful to consult a specialist who accompanies this process.

Talking about feelings helps

Children who suffer from separation anxiety need a lot of understanding and security from those around them. Therefore, it is important for parents to take care of their children’s feelings first. Separation anxiety, a mixture of fear, insecurity and confusion etc. are especially dangerous for children as they are rarely able to put these feelings into words. Therefore, naming these feelings together can provide clarity and security. It is important to talk to your child about these emotions. Preferably at a quiet time when the child feels safe and secure. Transparency is also a key aspect when it comes to separation anxiety. Children can give up better when they know what their parents are doing in their absence. Little rituals of morning and goodbyes can also keep you safe. The combination of a small cuddly toy, a fragrant silk handkerchief from mom or a small shell as a souvenir from shared holidays can also positively affect the child’s sense of security.

Trust in your own abilities

Some transitions are more tedious and require a lot of maintenance from everyone involved. Therefore, it is especially important for parents to trust their child and to deal with challenges together. This inner parental attitude, “I believe in you and your ability, that you will (soon) succeed” contains a central message. Because the safer the parents feel, the more safety they pass on to their children. This affects the regulation of stress in the offspring and strengthens their self-confidence. It’s also important to recognize the existing skills your child needs for this transition. The first small steps forward, e.g. helping to pack a snack bag, walking through the playground by yourself, etc. should be identified and named. This helps to promote children’s self-efficacy which is a necessary experience when it comes to being able to influence their own lives. The more self-effective a child experiences in daily life, the less grace and restless they feel.

Another important aspect concerns the parents’ experiences of their own childhood. Many affected people recognize the similarities between their own behavior and that of their child. Important information that helps parents to put themselves better in the shoes of their counterpart. In this context, the following questions may be useful: “What helped me meet small and bigger challenges? What did I need from my environment then? And what can I give my child today in this situation? “

Finally, trust your own parental feelings and intuitions. They are often overshadowed by doubts and fears, so it is all the more important to give them enough attention and listen to them. Since those who trust can (better) let go, this applies to parents as well as children.

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