Is your child starting school or preschool this month? Are you wanting to know how to give your child the emotional support for a smooth start to school? Are you wondering, “Is it okay to stay with my child in the classroom?”

This blog is written by a young mum, sharing the challenges she faced.

When your young child needs you at school – it’s ok to stay!

This is a look back to when my first daughter started preschool …..

it it okay to stay with my child at school

It’s a few weeks till my first child starts preschool and my heart quickens every time I think about it. I calm myself, thinking,

“Its’ ok I can stay with her until she settles.”

Then my own thoughts run away with me … “Sh*t, they’ll think I am an awful eejit…I ’ll be mortified….. Will they even let me stay?”

I call the owner of the centre who agrees to let me stay in the room with my 3 year old, but she cautions,

“You’ll only be making it harder for her” by staying with her. Part of me is almost swayed not to stay with my child but a much larger part of me tells me I’m doing the most helpful thing for my child in this situation.

In my naiveté I tell people what I’m planning to do … the comments reel in:

“Who do you think you are thinking you can just stay there?!!”

“Are you going to do that in primary school too?!” (“Yes actually I am!”)

“Tough love that’s what I always say.” (“Really? I didn’t know that love had to be tough”)

 The First Morning 

Day one comes and we arrive at the preschool. There are some children crying and I feel like running away with my child. I want my child to make this transition without stress so I stay. I meet her teacher who is warm and friendly but quizzically looks at me as if I’m totally bonkers when I explain I want to stay whilst my child needs me.

“Ah this is for Mammy’s sake anyway!” she smiles. (As if I want to be sat here in the middle of twenty 3 year olds!)

I sit in the corner and try to keep my 1 year old as quiet as possible, whilst my older daughter surveys her new surroundings. Over the next few days, I stay for less and less time and I get to a point where I tell her I’m going to the butcher’s shop and she is ok with that. We take another few steps back and then forward again over the next week or two before she settles fully  – but we get there. I’ve stayed with my child so that she has had time to adjust to this new environment.

A Second Experience – where my viewpoint isn’t appreciated!

A few months later I decide to try the two girls in a local crèche for two afternoons a week. The manager tells me that they have a week settling-in period, which sounds great! When we arrive I realise that the girls will be going to separate rooms. The carer in the baby room puts out her arms to take my two year old from me, but my little one is having none of it. Her body is rigid, and her fingers dig into my arms, she clings tightly to me. I can’t believe the worker wants me to hand my toddler over to her straight away when she doesn’t even know her!

“Leave her for fifteen minutes, and come back,” I am told. I can’t even imagine how upset she would be if I left her. I try to handle my concern diplomatically but inside I’m screaming,

“Do you really believe I should leave my child with a total stranger in an unfamiliar place and she won’t even know how soon I’ll be back!”

They let me stay with her for a while and then ask me if I will leave. I won’t – not without my daughter unless she’s settled. So when I do leave I take my daughter with me. I call the manager the next day and ask if I can stay in the room with my toddler for the next few days.

“No. I don’t have the staff for that.”

I offer to pay for the settling in time (it’s usually free) but still she tells me that I will have to wait outside. I realise quickly that this creche is not for us.

Is this the norm?

I suspect, these are situations that are replicated all around the country all the time. Why can’t the parent, or the carer who is with the child every day, stay for a little while to settle children in? Mostly, I suspect, because it’s awkward for the school/crèche/ institution. They want the parents out of the picture so that they can get on with their work/ day. It appears understandable – especially if the staff do not believe that the children are genuinely upset. They seem to think the children are “just manipulating” their parents. But at what cost to the child’s well-being is this enforced separation? Surely the needs of the children should be paramount?

Why do we parents hand over our say on this? Other people are not the experts on our children. No one knows our children as we do.

An upset child cannot be reasoned with and cannot hear that you will “be back soon”. A staff worker or teacher should be able to understand that a little lee-way and flexibility with parents will go a long way to making this a positive experience for the child.

Some tips that helped me:

#1 Talk to the care provider beforehand and agree ahead of time on how to meet your child’s needs during this initial stage. You don’t want to be figuring this out over your child’s head on day one.

#2 Get support to help you clarify your thinking ahead of time regarding what’s needed and how you will approach the school regarding their “parent staying” policy. If you don’t have support readily available, find a clear-thinking, sympathetic friend or a counselor or accredited parent coach. You may find to helpful to also check in with this person in the early days of this transition, if the transition isn’t going as easily as you had hoped.

#3 Be cautious who you tell about your intention to stay. It can be very triggering for people – so “keep schtum” unless you are sure that person will genuinely support you in finding the most helpful solution for your child’s benefit. I was amazed at the amount of negative reactions I received. It’s easier to steer the course you want through this period without negative or judgmental comments from others.

#4 Stay out of the way in the class. Sit in the corner and read a book. Your child may not come to you but they will be happy just to know you are there.

#5 As you sense your child is coping in the new situation, you might choose to move a little further away. Maybe sit just outside the door or window when your child is aware you are still there they will be calmer.

#6 Remember what really matters here!! Is this about the convenience of the staff or your child’s happiness and security? It’s the adults who need to give a little and to be flexible – not the three year olds!

Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are  taking a firm stand on being with your child so that your child  know and experience you will be there for them when they need you the most.

You may want to not risk doing the unpopular thing for yourself but you ‘ll do it for your child!

For more parenting tips regarding starting school see: “Is Your Child Anxious About Starting School?”  

What memories or concerns does this parent’s experience raise for you? Please add your comments below.