Kindergarten Readiness (Part I)

Entering a kindergarten marks the first step into a formal education for a child and it may bring many changes in a child’s life and the life of their family.  As soon as a child reaches the age of two which is an acceptable age to register for an international kindergarten in China, his or her parents would start to wonder: Is it time to send my child to a kindergarten?  If yes, what kindergarten would be a good choice for my child? It’s never easy for parents to navigate through the selection to come to a well-considered school choice.  It is equally difficult for parents and their children to get ready for a completely new school life.
“Separation Anxiety ≠ Separation Anxiety Disorder”
For the beginning of every new school terms, “Separation Anxiety” becomes THE word among parents.  Many parents break their hearts to see their children crying hysterically on the first day of kindergarten and may start to panic as much as their children.  
As the American Association of Psychology states it, Separation Anxiety Disorder (SAD) is a state when people display excessive anxiety and fear while being separated from something or someone familiar.  Also, the degree and demeanor of anxiety and fear is not age appropriate.  In short, SAD is common among infants (six months to three years old), but it also occurs to people of different age groups. Only when individual displays excessive anxiety and fear that is not age appropriate will this individual be identified as a patient. And the widespread separation anxiety among Chinese parents is rather a difficult “period” than a serious “disorder”. 
Even adults feel upset to see friends and/or family leaving. As adults, we’re fully equipped with multiple social or emotional channels to express ourselves and some even choose to hide our emotions from others.  However children do not have control over the environment or have those channels for self-expression.  All can they do is to cry for attention and help.  
“Separation Anxiety = A Critical Phase of Cognitive Development”
When a child cries or behaves naughtily during his or her first encounter with kindergarten, it is just a way to let out his or her insecurity, uncertainty and unwillingness to leave his or her caretaker (parents, grandparents or nanny).  This display of sadness and even anger is essentially different from SAD because an appropriate amount of emotion outlet is a sign indicating the child is undergoing a critical phase of cognitive development.
For a more scientific and subjective assessment on whether any child has displayed excessive anxiety and fear towards a kindergarten life, parents need to think about how their own children express themselves at home and talk to classroom teacher and early childhood educators for professional suggestions.  It is fair to say that each child has his or her own way to express him or herself.  Some children may not even show any sign of separation anxiety but some children may need two to three months or even longer to adjust themselves.  
“What Parents Could Do to Help?”
Separation anxiety can easily be alleviated under the proper guidance of classroom teacher or professional educators.  Parents could also be of help by following suggestions below:
Creating a Sense of Social Belonging
Parents may encourage children to participate in social and collective activities as much as possible. Through participation, children may have the chance to learn and develop a sense of sharing and cooperation, which are all key components of a future IB education. Children will also get to know other children and have their first taste of friendship.  
Fostering an Optimistic Attitude
Parents should introduce to children all the amazing and interesting things that could take place in a kindergarten as much as possible.  Children books, cartoons or even television programs can be helpful sometimes as well.  It is important to grow a sense of anticipation in children for their future kindergarten life.
Creating a Sense of Rules
This might be a difficult one since every child is always the apple in parent’s eyes in Chinese culture and parents always try to provide their children with the best things available.  However, it is now a great opportunity to teach children the RULES. Parents may try to make some family rules and whoever breaches the rules shall take responsibility and the consequences.  Parents should learn to say NO because if you don’t, you children would need to learn it the hard way from others sooner or later. 
Following a Regular Schedule and a Health Menu
Whichever kindergarten your child is going to attend, parents shall try to get hold of a copy of the daily schedule and start to adjust your child to that schedule gradually. Bedtime and naptime both need attention and, at the same time, parents need to know how many meals and snacks your kindergarten will provide and then make adjustments accordingly at home.  
Independence, Independence and Independence!
For any child, who enters school at the age of two, independence is always a big issue. Teachers at kindergarten may help with bathroom, food or nap, but eventually the child needs to learn how to deal with these things independently. For older children, it is even more crucial to learn to be self-reliant in the school environment. Parents could help by encouraging independence at home and teaching their children how to tie or wear their own shoes, how to brush their own teeth and how to go to the bathroom by themselves. 
Parents’ Readiness for Kindergarten
For the moment a child sets step into a kindergarten, he or she has started to gain independence from adults, and he or she is also learning how to deal with the complicated world alone. It is truly a challenge for those children to leave their caretakers after 700 inseparable days, but it is even a bigger challenge for parents, especially the main caretaker.
Nowadays international kindergartens become more and more professional by providing curricula with child-centered activities that are conducive to students’ physical, psychological and academic development.   It requires good attendance at the kindergarten to ensure the children’s holistic development.  Parents need to stay calm and carry on!  They need to be mentally prepared for a few days or weeks of difficult morning separations and stay consistent, calm, and optimistic at the same time.  The children will get used to the new routines in days or weeks and future separations will be much easier.  
Children are like seeds.  We grow, water and take care of them when they are young, but we also need to know when to let go and to cheer for their independence and growth from a distance.