Read more about Parenting Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers
Going to a new school can be a scary time for all children.
Try to remember your last first day at a new job–you didn’t know anyone, where anything was, what the culture was like, what was expected of you or how to get it done. It’s the same experience for our children. I still remember the first day of 7th grade and being terrified of walking into a building I’d never seen before. I was sobbing in the car and had no idea what I was supposed to do or where I was supposed to go once I walked through those ominous doors in the old brick catholic middle school.
What makes all the difference for transitions like these, into school or anything else (new home, new classroom, new gym, even a new doctor), is creating a step ladder approach to introduce them.
What’s a step ladder approach?
It’s a way of introducing the new place or activity in several layers that build on each other. My daughter started kindergarten this year and these are all of the things that happened prior to her first day:
- In March, I attended a meeting at the school to learn about registration and decide if we’d attend this school. I took pictures inside and showed them to her when I got home.
- In April, I took her to the evaluation at the school. We walked around together afterward.
- In May, I drove her up to the school. We looked at the playground.
- Also in May, her preschool took her there for a big tour.
- During the summer, we read books and talked about school and drove past it any time she wanted.
- In August, we went to a school event in the park where staff and other students were present. Then we went to her playground and she played on it for 30 minutes. We had her room assignment by then so I held her up to look in the windows of her new room.
- At the end of August, we attended her open house where she got to meet her teacher and give her a painting she’d made of the two of them. We toured the room afterward and looked at EVERYTHING, especially any space designated as hers. We even checked out the bathroom.
- Her first day was half of the students and they went on a big tour of the school with their teacher. We took her as far as we could and then she was ushered into a group of her classmates.
- Then her first day of school with everyone. She walked in in the morning like it was absolutely no big deal!
So the idea is that you gradually introduce the new place in as many ways as you can — if you can’t physically go there, try to find pictures, make a book about it, watch videos about similar activities/places, read books about it, etc.
If the transition is to a more independent stage, then you’ll do something similar and keep introducing it in layers. For example, as you transition a child to sleeping alone in their bed, you may start by sleeping in the room with them and gradually move further away each night as well as talk about it, read about it, make stories together about it, and incorporate any objects that help them feel more connected to you and safe, such as pictures, your shirt, a special light or stuffie, or even a ribbon going from their room to yours that they can pull to feel connected to you.
How to Create a Step Ladder Approach to Help a Child With Transitions:
- Identify the end goal
- Think from the goal backward to identify the very first step that would start to introduce the activity or place to your child
- List all of the ways you could build on that first step to reach the end goal, adding as many naturally progressive steps as possible
- Gently lead the child through each step in a reassuring and empathetic way.
The goal isn’t to pass on any anxiety you may have about the transition, but to familiarize them with it so they can feel empowered and balanced emotionally when the end goal is finally reached.
If you need any help mapping out a step ladder for your child, reach out to your Family Alchemist™ for help!
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