Preschool and Kindergarten Prep: Behavior

Christine Brown

Christine Brown

Last week, I wrote about helping maintain healthy sleep habits as your preschooler or kindergartener starts school. This week, we are going to focus on preschool and kindergarten prep, but focusing on behavior!

While our sweet little loves are so smart, their brains won’t be fully developed until they are 25 years old. While their brains are developing and they are learning how to navigate the world, there can be a lot of big emotions, coupled with difficulty separating and transitions. These are all things that can really kick up as your child gets ready for the big milestone of starting school.

The good news is that we can set our little ones up for success with some preschool and kindergarten prep, focused on behavior! Let’s explore some practical things that you can do!

The Weeks Leading Up To School Starting

Read Books About Preschool or Kindergarten

This is one of my favorite ways to teach my children! There are a lot of quality books that you can read with your child in advance of school starting to help with the adjustment. This can give them insight into the school day routine and what to expect. They’ll get ideas about what types of fun activities that they’ll get to do. This can also encourage your child to begin asking questions and expressing their feelings, which we’ll talk more about below.

  • Hit the library to borrow some books.
  • Purchase some books that you can pass on once you are finished with them. Some of my favorites can be found here.

Practice Self-Help Skills

Our kiddos gain incredible confidence when they can do things for themselves! We can help prepare your little one for school by practicing the skills that they will need for school. Things like:

  • Unzipping their coat
  • Hanging their coat on a hook
  • Putting on their backpack
  • Putting on and fastening their shoes
  • Sitting criss cross applesauce
  • Unwrapping their sandwich, if they will be bringing lunch
  • Race Your Child. Play a game of how fast your little one can do any of the skills listed above. Kids love it! Also, I have set my stopwatch on my phone to see how fast they can complete the skill. Then they want to see if they can beat it. Lots of good excuses to practice, that don’t feel like work. Our kids just love to have fun!
  • Play School. If your child enjoys imaginative play, playing school together will give your child the chance to practice the skills above.

Play at Your New Preschool

Most preschools and kindergartens allow children and parents to come tour the school and meet the teacher before the first day. Also, if the school allows, play on the playground a few times before your child’s first day. Having first hand experience and positive memories of the school can help increase your child’s comfort level and confidence leading up to school starting and on day 1.

Allow Your Child to Pick Out Their Backpack

In our online shopping paradise, it can be easy to just navigate to Pottery Barn Kids and select a backpack that you think your little one will like. Feeling all accomplished as you cross it off your list. Instead, I encourage you to allow your child to choose their backpack and lunch box.

If you are saying, “but I know that she loves unicorns!” hear me out…

Think about it…as parents, we control so much of our children’s lives. This can leave our little one’s feeling powerless. When our little ones feel powerless, it can turn them into sweet little control freaks and bring out some of their more obstinate behaviors. It is really age-appropriate and part of their development to want to have control and some autonomy.

When I meet with parents during a behavior consult, many are concerned that their child has OCD when we meet! If this is a concern and/or you have a family history, definitely reach out to your pediatrician. More often these dictator behaviors are your child’s way of saying that they need more choice throughout the day and they are testing out the boundaries.

  • Let your child choose their backpack and lunch box. This can be hard because their choice may not align with your vision or be Instagram-worthy! But if your child chooses what they like and they feel like they have more control, which results in more cooperation, the ugly dinosaur shooting laser’s backpack may be worth it!
  • Allow your little one to choose their clothes. You may have the most special first day of school outfit all picked out. If your child doesn’t want to wear that outfit, it may turn into tantrum city. The day before the first day, help your child pick out their outfit. This may not mean free range of their closet, because even adults can get overwhelmed with too many choices! But perhaps say “We have these two outfits to pick from. Which one would you like to wear?” Or play the “this or that” game to keep it fun! This choice gives control on a daily basis. Another streamline technique is to have your child choose clothes for the week on Sunday. Then place them into a closet organizer, like this one. This nurtures your child’s growing independence.
  • Add more age-appropriate choices throughout the day. “Red cup or the blue cup?” “Do you want to wear the pink shirt or the purple shirt?” “Do you want to climb into the car yourself or do you want my help?” These choices will help to give your child some of the power they are seeking.
  • Don’t give choices if there isn’t really a choice. Try to avoid saying things like “do you want to go up for your bath?” The answer will always be a straight-up “NO!”. If it isn’t a choice, then don’t give one. Instead try: “Do you want to hold hands going up the stairs or do you want to climb up yourself?” Make sure the choice is going in the direction of your goal.

Establish a New Routine & Practice

If your child is used to waking up leisurely, having a slow breakfast and getting some serious playtime in each morning, you are going to want to prepare your child (and yourself) for the new morning routine. We all know kids aren’t wild about change! If we spring it on them, it can cause moving as slow as molasses and/or an epic tantrum. Also kids hate to be rushed! (I don’t like it either!)

At least one week before school starts, begin waking your child at the time they’ll need to wake for school. This will begin adjusting their body to their new schedule.

Even if you don’t have anywhere you need to be, practice the routine and get out the door. This will give your child some time to adjust and get into the groove. If things are taking longer than expected, you’ll be cool as a cucumber if you don’t have time limits. Our kids respond better when we aren’t feeling anxious.

  • Create a morning routine chart with pictures. You can download, print and laminate the one pictured below. Or if you are more of an Amazon Prime mom (no judgment!), this one is easy peasy. With a dry erase marker, have your child check off each item as they complete them. Think about how you feel after crossing something off your list!
  • Trial Run. On the day before school starts or the previous Friday, do a trial run. Go through the entire routine and actually get in the car and drive to school. This will give your child the full experience. Plus it will give your little one an opportunity to ask you ALL their questions.
Download PDF here.

Managing Concerns and Emotions

Listening & Thoughtful Response

Like we discussed above, children’s brains are not fully developed until they are 25. This means that some of your child’s concerns about school may seem illogical to you. This can lead us to try to quickly reassure our children and then move on. We have to remember that these are their thoughts and feelings and even if they don’t make sense to us, we’ve got to hear them out.

Think back to a time when you’ve been worried about something and someone dismissed your feelings. Feels pretty crappy right? No matter your child’s worry or emotions, we want to hear them out and provide thoughtful, reassuring answers and brainstorm solutions together.

What You Can Do:
  • If your child is worried about missing you, make a photo album with pictures of her favorite people so the can look at it during the day if she is feeling sad and missing you.

Name & Validate Emotions

Young children talk A LOT so we can be surprised when they don’t know how to explain what they are feeling. You can help your children to understand their emotions by helping to name them.

Your child’s emotions may rollercoaster from happy, to sad, to excited, and to scared. Let your little one know that all of these emotions are normal and it is ok to feel that way. This helps our children to understand their feelings. It also helps to teach children that their entire range of emotions is ok. This helps to create emotionally healthy adults who don’t stuff their feelings.

Another powerful teaching tool that can help is to share one of your stories when you started something new and how you felt. Our children learn so much from our stories and it helps to validate them.

What You Can Do:

If my child was feeling sad, here is an example of a parenting script that I would use:

Name the Emotion: “You seem sad about us being apart during school.”

Validate Feelings: “It’s ok to feel sad. I’m going to miss you so much too.”

Share Your Story: “I remember when I started school, I felt sad too, but I also felt excited and happy. Then when I went to school, I had a lot of fun. I missed my mommy sometimes and then I would hug my bear and remember I would see her again really soon. Then I didn’t feel as sad.”

What to Look Forward To: At the end of the end, I will be waiting for you with a big hug and I can’t want to hear all about your day!”

Decoding Unspoken Communication

If your child is more of the quiet type, discussing their thoughts and feelings may be more challenging for them. Or you child may not have the words to express their feelings. If they are having a hard time, you may see messages come through behaviorally.

When some children are worried, they act out. This can look like more aggressive behavior, withdrawing or becoming clingy.

I oftentimes hear parents share that when their child started a new school or welcomed a new brother or sister, their little one regressed in another area. Commonly, there is a potty training regression with more accidents. Or your child may want to be “babied” by asking you to do things that they can do themselves, like feeding or dressing them.

What You Can Do:

To help your little one to get back to their “big kid” behaviors, here are some things that you can do to help.

  • Be Patient. It can be so frustrating when you know your little one is capable of doing something, yet they’ve regressed. Oftentimes, we get fixated on “fixing” it, that it becomes a source of pressure for the entire family. When children feel pressure, it becomes a thing and now they dig their heels in. The more patient and supportive you are, the quicker your child will get back to normal.
  • Provide Extra Support & Nurturing. If you have to help your child get dressed or put on their shoes, I promise they won’t get stuck there forever! Your little one is going through a lot of change and may need a little more support & extra TLC while they are adjusting to this new milestone.

I hope all these preschool and kindergarten prep behavior tips are helpful!

If you need 1-on-1 help with your little one’s behavior, check out our child behavior consultation or schedule a discovery call to talk about working together!

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