One of the biggest challenges we all face… and my strategies to cope.

I’m talking about a problem that every preschool teacher has experienced countless times, and which is always difficult for us; how to settle an upset child at the beginning of the year.

There is no perfect formula to making every child feel comfortable, secure and ready to learn. However, I have accumulated some good tactics over the years, which I’ll share with you here.

How to settle an upset child

The most important (and pre-emptive) step is to ensure you have provided pre-preschool visits. This will allow the child and the parent time to become familiar with the setting and the routines of the preschool.  It is important that you know the child’s interests and have all the relevant information before the first day. I would always theme the child’s bag hook or locker with a relevant interest (e.g. a picture of a dinosaur) for familiarity and a bit of a distraction.

The way you set up your indoor and outdoor learning environments is going to play a big part in comforting the child. The setup should be based on the information you have on each child’s interests and use this to provide relevant experiences to support those. For example, if a child is really interested in trains, have out the train set or Thomas the Tank Engine books). This is important for each child.

It is important for the child and parent to come in, to be greeted by friendly staff and then say goodbye to their child and leave. A parent sneaking out is never a good idea (it causes a huge emotional impact that we teachers have to deal with)!

If you are able, gradually start new children over the course of a few weeks with, say, 5 children first, then 2 days later start another 5 (or stagger during the day, but this doesn’t work nearly as well). This will form the beginning of a caring and trusting relationship. The child will start to feel safe, secure, supported and develop the confidence to explore. Often the child will begin to form this bond with one particular staff member and it is important to maintain this stability.

Set up a visual schedule/display to help familiarize the child with the day’s routine and to know what’s coming next; this helps eliminate uncertainty. I have picture cards that I attach with velcro along the whiteboard, representing the day’s activities chronologically.

During the child’s pre-orientation visits, take a photo of the child with their family and display it on a poster for the first day so they can see it. In my experience, the ‘our class families’ board is always calming if they miss their parents.

For children who are struggling to settle in, start with a shorter day (e.g. 2 hours) and gradually build it up to the full day.

One child might go to a particular activity constantly – keep record of this and support that child with this familiarity (e.g. if they wish to play with the train set for weeks, make sure it is provided, but at the same time it can be set up in a different part of the room or on a large table).

I had one child who was upset for a long time. I made up a photobook with photos of the child and myself playing together where he was happy, along with photos of other aspects in the preschool that were familiar to him (e.g. lockers, the staff and group games) and sent it to his home. He was able to look at it at home and become familiar and confident with the idea of coming to preschool. I found this worked extremely well.

The key here is that what works with one child may not necessarily work for another.  Keep trying different strategies and include the parents in the process.  Make sure the parent is happy and confident and not putting their fears and worries onto the child; it’s all about building relationships!

I’ve written extensively on this topic, but I’ll link to a couple of related articles you might like here as well:

Preschool Supplies: Getting Your Classroom – and Your Students – Ready for the Start of the Year

The Importance of Early Childhood Education: A Teacher’s Perspective

What is the Average Preschool Age? A guide for Parents

Feel free to forward the last two to any parent wanting to take their child out of Preschool! It can be hard, but it’s just so important – as you well know!