Bullying, the use of bad language and separation anxiety are just a few of many issues that can crop up when your little one starts preschool. Here’s expert advice on how to work through them successfully.
1 Your child keeps catching illnesses from other kids in school
It’s worrying when your child falls sick frequently, but this is simply a part of growing up, says Dr Lim Hwee Ying, senior resident from the Department of Neonatal & Developmental Medicine at Singapore General Hospital.
Immunity strengthens when the body learns to fight germs, viruses and other organisms. In fact, having up to 10 bouts of viral infections a year is normal, Dr Lim assures.
Nevertheless, it’s important to help Junior maintain a healthy immune system. So make sure that he eats plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables daily, gets adequate sleep every night, and enjoys regular physical activity.
Dr Lim also suggests teaching him habits like washing his hands before and after meals and after using the toilet. Remind him to stay away from kids who are sick, and disinfect his toys between use to prevent the spread of germs.
Finally, Dr Lim says to limit your child’s antibiotic use. “Overuse of antibiotics may result in antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which may be more difficult to treat later. Having said that, if your child’s paediatrician thinks that antibiotics are necessary, make sure that your child finishes the course.”
Your child should also get vaccinated when required. “Singapore has a recommended national immunisation schedule for healthy infants,” says Dr Lim. “This constitutes a series of vaccinations at several time points, namely, birth, one month, three, four and five months, 12 months, and subsequently 15 to 18 months, and then at 10 to 11 years.
“By the time your child is 18 to 21 months, he should have been vaccinated against tuberculosis (BCG), hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, haemophilus influenza, measles, mumps, rubella and pneumococcus. Beyond that, a booster dose for polio, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis is recommended at 10 to 11 years old.”
Hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD) is common in preschoolers. Associate Professor Thoon Koh Cheng, head and senior consultant from the Infectious Disease Service at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, says that good personal hygiene is the best way to protect your little one from catching this disease.
This means getting him to wash his hands with soap and water before and after meals and after using the toilet, and to cover his mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and to throw the tissue away immediately.
Remind him not to share his food, drinks, plate, cutlery, glass, towel, toothbrush and other personal items. If there is an HFMD outbreak in your child’s school, Prof Thoon suggests the following:
• Monitor your child’s temperature daily
• Wash his hands before leaving the childcare centre;
• Shower him and change his clothes as soon as he gets home;
• Check for mouth ulcers and blisters on his hands and feet daily.
Consult your family doctor if you notice any symptoms.
2 Your kid suffers from separation anxiety
The first rule with separation anxiety is to set a good example for your child by staying calm and positive.
“By showing him that you’re not anxious, you’re telling him that you have full confidence in the teachers and know that he’ll have a great time in school,” says Fiona McDonald, head of Learning Support at Chiltern House Preschool.
“Over time, this should give your child a greater sense of security and help him feel more settled.”
When you arrive at school, reassure him again by mentioning something fun he will be doing that day. For instance, “Tuesdays are great; you’re going to the playground today, I’m sure the big bikes will be there for you to try.”
When it comes to saying goodbye, Fiona says to do it in a way that works for your child. Don’t sneak away, as that may upset him, and don’t linger for too long, as this gives your kid the impression that you’re not sure about what’s happening.
If all else fails, she suggests formulating a plan with the teachers. “This may involve dropping your child off after the busiest arrival time at the centre or even picking him up five minutes early, until he becomes more comfortable with the routine.”
3 Your child was bullied, either physically or emotionally
Preschool kids may say things like, “I don’t want to be your friend”, “Go away!” or “I don’t like you” to express unhappiness or exert control.
“At this age, they’re still mastering basic social skills and figuring out how to manage their own emotions, so their mean words or actions may simply be a way of testing the boundaries of what is acceptable,” says Patricia Koh, chief executive at Maplebear Singapore.
Young children are also more likely to lash out at those nearest to them when they are unhappy.
If your child is upset about something that happened in school, encourage him to talk about it. Patricia also suggests talking to the teacher to find out what’s been happening in class or with another kid. Most schools, she says, will have steps for intervening.
Teach your child to speak up and get help if the incident happens again. If the bullying was over sharing a book or toy, teach your child to wait his turn or tell him to suggest a game that more kids can play.
“Learning how to build positive relationships, and knowing how to resolve conflicts and settle disagreements on his own are valuable life skills,” Patricia adds.
4 He has been bullying his friends
It’s important to acknowledge the behaviour, so sit down with your child and focus on establishing what happened, says Fiona.
“Listen and be calm, don’t attach blame, and remember to ask leading questions such as how would he would feel if he had been on the receiving end. Emphasise your family’s values of respecting others and treating others with kindness.”
Your child should also take responsibility for his actions. Fiona says to apply a logical consequence that’s appropriate for both the situation and your child’s age.
For example, if he was being unkind in the playground and another kid was hurt, going without playground time may be the logical consequence. If your child is older, apologising to the hurt child might have a greater impact.
“Remember to focus on the positive, so when your child returns to the playground, praise him when you observe that he’s being kind,” Fiona adds. “This helps reinforce your expectations – focus on what you want to see happening and give feedback when you see it.”
If his teacher has given you feedback about his behaviour, work with her to deal with the matter. Talk about what may be at the core of the behaviour – Fiona says that kids often bully because they feel threatened, insecure, anxious, or not in control.
“Of course, this doesn’t excuse the action but it can help you find the solution. Look beyond the bullying behaviour and strengthen your child’s social skills – focus on areas like self-awareness, self-management, self-esteem, problem-solving and responsible decision-making. Perhaps your child needs more help in a specific area. A stronger self-image often reduces a child’s need to bully others.”
Finally, work with the teacher on any areas that may lead to the bullying behaviour. Discuss logical consequences as well, so that you’re both working in partnership together, and continue to seek her feedback about how your child is doing and how else you can support him at home.
5 He dislikes his teacher
Patricia suggests talking to your child to understand what caused these negative emotions. You might discover that what your child really feels is fear.
For instance, the teacher may be very tall, speak loudly or look fierce – these features can be intimidating for a young child. Your child may also just be upset with his teacher for not recognising his efforts or praising his good behaviour. If this is the case, Patricia says to talk to the teacher and see if she can change the way she interacts with your child.
“Good educators are open to feedback and would appreciate knowing how a child feels so that they can make things better.”
It might also help for you to speak positively about the teacher in front of your child, as negative remarks will only confuse him.
6 You like the school, but dislike your child’s teacher or a staff member
“You need to understand why you feel this way towards the teacher or staff member,” says Rebecca Han, senior programme specialist at Odyssey The Global Preschool.
“Is it her mannerism or the way she interacted with your child? Is it just a personal bias? Once that’s addressed and you know it has nothing to do with personal bias, approach the principal to share your observations and discuss your interactions with the teacher or staff member.”
Stacy Yeo, senior principal at Brighton Montessori – Great World City, agrees.
“You should voice your concerns to someone who can investigate discreetly and address the issue in an unbiased manner. The principal should be able to give reasonable explanations for the staff’s action in her centre.”
If the way you feel is simply due to a personal bias or your perception of the teacher, Rebecca suggests talking to her. After chatting, you might find that she isn’t as bad as you thought.
7 Your child doesn’t seem to be learning anything
A chat with the teacher should give you an idea of how Junior is performing in school. Rebecca says that if your child has a learning disability, his teachers should have already flagged behaviours that suggest he hasn’t been meeting the development milestones for his age.
“On the other hand, if the way you feel is due to the school not meeting your expectations, then get the teachers to share the school’s philosophy and explain what your child will be learning,” Rebecca continues.
“If you still feel that the school philosophy and approach aren’t aligned with what you want for your child, look for another school that can match your expectations. Whatever the case, it’s always good to communicate with the teachers honestly.”
8 He has picked up bad habits or manners from his classmates
Stacy says you should share your observations with the teacher and find out whether she’s noticed the same thing in the classroom. “By highlighting this to the teacher, you’re also giving her a chance to use the issue as a learning point to educate the kids about bad habits or manners.”
Remember to also talk to your child, Rebecca advises. Tell him that what he’s doing isn’t right. If he displays the inappropriate behaviour again, don’t pay attention to it. Instead, try to redirect it and tell him when he does something good.
Audrey Tan, senior principal at Learning Vision @ Interlocal, says that understanding the reasons for your child’s newly acquired behaviour or colourful language is the first step to working with him to stop that habit. But she warns against coming across as too forceful, as children sometimes do not realise that their words or habits are wrong.
“Scolding, shaming or blaming the child might cause him to keep repeating the habit because he is curious about your reaction or wants to provoke a reaction from you,” she explains.
“He knows that it will annoy you, so he uses it to get attention, as negative attention is better than none.”
Should you change preschools?
Despite all your encouragement, your kid dislikes her preschool. She wears you down with cries of: “I hate it and I don’t want to go!” You may have reached the point where you’re considering the possibility of pulling her out, and try an alternative centre.
While that’s always an option, it shouldn’t be your ﬁrst choice. There are steps you can take before making such a drastic change in your child’s life.
There are a number of potential problems with changing the preschool too quickly:
First, there may be a much simpler solution that doesn’t involve such upheaval (for example, a change of group within the preschool may greatly improve her experiences there).
Second, the problem may have nothing to do with the preschool itself and more with your child’s development (for instance, if she is very shy, she will have social difﬁculties, no matter which preschool she attends).
Third, changing preschool too easily creates a precedent in your child’s mind that if she whines loud enough, she’ll always get her own way (for instance, she may start protesting about taking piano lessons because she knows you will pull her out when she complains about that).
Finally, if you give in too quickly, she may start moaning about her new preschool – and you’ll have to deal with the problem all over again.
Explore other options before you make a decision to swop preschool. Most childhood concerns can be resolved without withdrawing the child, if parents and the preschool staff work together to ﬁnd a solution.
Bear in mind that nearly every child is reluctant to go to preschool sometimes, for reasons ranging from being tired to wanting to avoid a particular lesson.
If she is very unhappy, ﬁnd out the reasons. They can range from falling out with her best friend at preschool, worrying about ﬁghts at home between parents and difﬁculty with some of the activities, to disliking her teachers, lack of self-conﬁdence, being bullied and more.
Talk to your child about the key areas of her preschool life, such as her friends, the games, the outdoor activities, the snacks and lunches, the toilets and the staff. Listen carefully to what she has to say.
Remember that your child’s class teacher is the best source of information regarding her progress. Make an appointment to speak to her. Explain your concerns and listen to her observations. You might just ﬁnd the root cause of your child’s unhappiness. It takes several weeks for a child to settle into preschool. If she is still unhappy after a reasonable period, then consider your options. But do plan this very carefully.
And if a swop is imminent, tell the staff of her new preschool about the difﬁculties she is experiencing, and ask them to explain in detail their settling-in procedures for new children.
Encourage your kid to have a positive approach to her new placement, and monitor the ﬁrst few weeks of her attendance very closely.