It's that time of year when our youngest children are beginning a new adventure at school: and that can mean tears – for both the children and their parents.
Unfortunately, there is no foolproof way to completely avoid tears at the door and unsettled families, but there are important things to consider.
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1. The 'key person' is crucial
That every child and family has a Key Person is a statutory requirement including in Reception classes. A useful read here is Guidance: the key person in reception classes and small nursery settings.
Whether the Key Person is chosen before the child has started, or when it has been observed who they gravitate towards, the importance of the role cannot be underestimated as a consistent adult to form a relationship with. It may well be the first time the child has been away from their family for a period of time.
2. Parental inclusion
Remember this is a transition for everyone – including the parents. As such, thinking about allowing time for parents to stay with the child before saying goodbye is important. Not everyone will stay, but the opportunity must be there at the start of the year.
The length of this stay will depend on your setting and is important even in school settings. My Reception class outside door was open every day until 9.20am so parents could stay and play if they had time.
You must establish expectations of parents. For example, that they must say goodbye when they leave and explain that they are coming back.
3. Make a visual timetable
It can be useful to have a visual timetable. Make one with photographs from your setting that show different key points from your routine so that you can share with the child and family the events that will happen before they are collected. Have a set of these photographs for each Key Person to share.
4. Home comforts
It is a good idea to ask the parents for a family photo that can be left at the setting as a reference point for the child. I would also recommend that the children are allowed to bring a transition object with them, such as a soft toy.
I have fond memories of Bun-Bun and Fireman Sam (who was dressed in a cut-down school uniform) being brought to school every day and becoming part of our Reception class. It is not always a soft toy, though.
Over the years, I’ve also had very special toy cars being kept in pockets where they could be touched for reassurance. These objects could be brought in for the whole year. As adults, how often do we feel insecure if we have forgotten to put on a specific piece of jewellery, or we’ve lost a favourite pen?
5. Respecting emotions
It is also important that the parents know that the team will not leave their child to cry. If this happens regularly then this will be unsettling for everyone, and it may be that the child is not ready to be left yet.
But it is never appropriate to say, "Stop crying, Mummy will be back in a minute." A child’s feelings must be respected; they are important and they may not be able to articulate them.
It's worth considering how you feel when you are in an unfamiliar situation. As adults, we have built up our resilience and coping strategies based on our life experiences. But even then sometimes we don’t always cope.
Dr Sue Allingham is an EYFS researcher