How can we help our children adapt again to nurseries and kindergartens after the pandemic?
30 April 2020
Virginia Vasileva and Dimana Miteva-Naydenova – psychologists at Karin Dom
Covid-19 created a situation that none of us had ever imagined. Nurseries and kindergartens are closed indefinitely. The children are used to staying at home. And while the older ones are looking forward to the day they will return to kindergarten or school, for some children, and especially the youngest, this is not the case. So we wonder how can we help our children today to re-adapt to daycare environment after the pandemic is over? Getting used to the routines in a childcare environment is a process that requires special attention and attitude.
Those of you who have recently adapted your children to a nursery or kindergarten may still have unpleasant memories of morning crying, changes in behavior, mood, sleeping or eating patterns. Have you thought about what would happen when children return to their classrooms and a simultaneous adaptation should take place?!? For some children, it will be easy and hassle-free, but others will need more time and individual care.
In this article, we will offer some easy techniques and strategies that you can apply now at home to make it easier for your children to become accustomed to their children’s environment.
The adaptation to the nursery and kindergarten is influenced by three factors, which are to be considered in more detail:
1. Separation from mother and family environment;
2. Connecting and building social contacts with peers and staff in the childcare facility;
3. Adaptation to the routines, rules and requirements in the childcare facility.
Children have different experiences and levels of independence, so some of them adapt more easily and for others it is more difficult.
The first factor – the separation of the child from the mother and the safe home environment is the purely physical separation of the child from the mother and home. If your child is having a harder time separating from you, then what you can do right now is to:
- Provide the child with the opportunity to keep his or her experience and remain calm in the absence of the mother. For example, during social isolation, you could separate more often in the other room under the pretext that you are doing something. Have the child spend more time with the father / grandmother / other family member you live with. Let someone else bathe, feed and put the child to sleep at least 2-3 times a week.
- Imitate a conversation with the nursery or kindergarten staff. The purpose of such a role play is on the one hand for the child to continue to hear their names and know that these people are part of your life, and on the other hand to feel your positive attitude and the trust you give them… You can include the child In the game, as you walk, call the lady and tell her what you did during the day or what the child has learned.
Even children who separate easily from the mother may have difficulty establishing contact with other children or adults caring for them. The second important factor – bonding, you can help by maintaining the connection of the child with the nursery/kindergarten, the children in the group and the caregivers.
- Look at photos of the kindergarten / nursery staff, as well as the children from the group. Such photos are available on the websites of kindergartens and nurseries. And you can find photos of the children from their parents or browsing through the group photos (from the Christmas party, for example).
- Keep in touch with peers online. In case your child has established closer contacts with any of the children – keep them in the form of a video connection. It would be something new and interesting for the children. The goal is for the child not to lose touch with the children from the group. They can make an impromptu chase game or walk “virtually” around a friend’s house and show their room, their favorite toys, a pet and their latest drawing, for example.
- Include the names of the children from the group in a role-playing game. These games allow us to attribute human qualities to plush toys or puppets and give them names (why not the same as the kids in the group). Encourage the child to give names to the animals. Put them in a situation that the child would experience in the kindergarten, for example, forest animals are sitting in a circle and a lady turtle is reading a story to them. Get involved in the role. This will make it easier for the child to immerse himself in the imaginary world and to guide the game. Such games reveal interesting nuances from your child’s experiences and are a good basis for a follow-up conversation on the topic – who are your friends in the group or what do you enjoy most about going to the kindergarten. Try to be positive and play a “supporting role”. Let the child have the lead role in the game.
The third factor – adjusting the child to the routines, rules and requirements in the nursery/ kindergarten, you can facilitate by:
- Maintain a daily routine and routine close to those in the nursery/kindergarten. Established routine prevents fatigue, soothes anxiety and makes the perception of the new environment more friendly, familiar and less frightening. During social isolation, many parents share about a shift in their child’s regimen (getting up later and falling asleep later, as well as lack of afternoon naps). If children keep this regimen for a long time, when it comes time to return to kindergartens and classrooms, it would be more difficult for them to adapt. Each deviation from the time frame makes children more irritable and enables them to seek “expanding their boundaries.” Around the third year, which is the period of the first age crisis, there is a strong urge to impose their own desires “I want something, I want it now.” It is a matter of parents’ insisting to observe the rules for the sequence of activities – “you get up, sit on the pot, wash, take off your pajamas and dress, have breakfast and only then everything else – a game / movie / music …” If you “miss” this moment now, it will be very difficult for you to impose it again and the probability of having very “difficult” mornings is high.
- A good established practice in support of easy adherence to the regime is the use of a visual schedule of the daily regime.
- Adhere to the rules and norms of good behavior (collecting toys, helping to arrange the table before eating, serving food, undressing and dressing yourself, caring for houseplants, etc.) Remember that in kindergartens children learn self-care and now at home it is important to maintain these skills. This could happen in the form of a game without unnecessary stress.
- Nutrition is often the reason for more difficult adaptation to kindergartens, because children may not be used to the type of foods there. They refuse to eat, which makes them irritable and / or exhausted, and this affects their overall adaptation. Try to prepare meals 2-3 times a week like those in the kindergarten and remember the moments of eating together with the children: “Do you like moussaka, Petyo? Oooo, you wanted more…”
- Look for songs, rhymes, games, and activities from nursery or kindergarten. With the development of technology it becomes more and more accessible to find and prepare interesting age-appropriate activities for your child. Internet is full of ready-made materials, songs and games and just entering a keyword and a clicking separates us from an ocean of ideas. On their pages, kindergartens also offer tasks tailored to the “learning material” of the kids.
For the little ones, who have briefly had experience with the nursery, it would be good to show photos and remind the child what this place is, who changed his clothes, fed him there, what he liked and who he played with. This will keep the child feeling that the nursery is a place that you like, that this place is as safe and secure as the home. That there are people out there who like him and are ready to meet his needs.
The first assistant in the adaptation of the youngest is the so-called “Transitional object“. This is a favorite toy or object without which the child does not leave the house. For each child, this is something different and strictly individual. You will know it for the special attitude of the child towards it – it seems to be alive. The child cares for it, attributes words and actions to it, shows affection, sometimes even hatred and desire to hurt it. All this is normal! So the child experiments with his emotions. This object is the child’s connection with the home, provides him with security and a feeling of warmth. At the same time, the child can manipulate it, operate it, carry it everywhere with him or just decide to leave it at home or in the locker when he feels safe without it. Support him in his feelings, emotions and decisions!
Adaptation (getting used to something new) and readaptation (getting back to the old) are complex processes. Complex, not so much as an explanation, but as an experience, as coping … This applies fully to us “old ones” and to our children. It is the difficulties that make us more adaptable, unite families and build us as a single society. Now is the time to set a good example for our children! To seek and support relatives and acquaintances. To call that kid whose hand our child held in the nursery group. To ask how they are doing… To share joys and worries, because shared joy is double joy, and shared pain is half pain. Helping each other today to make it easier for us tomorrow… for us and our children.
The video from the lecture (in Bulgarian) is available HERE.