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Introduction to preschool

Leaving your little child with strangers can be tough, even if it is leaving them with experienced and wise educators at a preschool. During the acclimatization period, it is important for the child to bond with an adult who can provide comfort when you are not there.

Four out of five Swedish children attend preschool, in either a larger or smaller group. Most start between the ages of one and three. At preschool, your child, perhaps for the first time, will participate in group activities with peers.

How does the introduction work?  It might be the first time you are leaving your child with someone they do not know well. Acclimatization at preschool must take the time needed for your child to bond with an adult there.

Usually, the preschool appoints a specific person who will be especially responsible for your child. This person will offer comfort and help when you, as a parent, are not there. Bonding with this person is crucial for the child to feel secure.

The introduction usually starts with a couple of visits to the preschool together with the child. The preschool educators will likely place you somewhere where the child can see you. But try not to be too interesting yourself. It is the responsible educator who should be active and take care of the child, "flirting in" and gaining the child's trust. (This is not like an open preschool, where you are expected to participate and ensure your child is having fun.)

After a few days, the preschool staff may ask you to go for a walk for an hour. The child needs to get used to you leaving—but also to be assured that you will come back. After that, the periods at the preschool can gradually become longer, starting with half days, for example, either in the morning or the afternoon. With good planning, the preschool staff can have several acclimatizations during the same weeks, while still giving the new children a lot of attention.

Take the time to be involved in the activities. It is important for the child to have a chance to form a secure attachment, but also for you to get some insight into what your child's days will look like from now on. It will be easier to talk about things that happen later if you know the routines at the preschool.

How long does it take?  Many preschools are positive about you starting with shorter periods and then half days. Everyone benefits from the child settling into preschool at the pace that they can handle.

Some preschools use a fast-track introduction, lasting only two or three days. Many psychologists believe that this time is often too short. Gunilla Niss, a preschool psychologist and author of the book "Förskola för de allra minsta" (Preschool for the very young), is critical of the expectation that acclimatization should happen so quickly.

- It doesn't happen in a couple of days unless it's an older child who has experienced separations before. But even then, a good attachment to one of the adults needs to be established. Only when the child has formed a secure attachment with an adult at the preschool can the child relax, have fun, join in the play, and develop well.

At some preschools, the staff may tell you that three days is the "standard" for acclimatization. If you have taken a longer period off work to make it work, you can still request shorter days initially.

- Set aside time for this. It may also happen that the child, or the adult responsible for the child's introduction at the preschool, gets sick for a few days—what happens then? If the child is not ready to be left for long days, it can be a setback that takes a long time to repair, says Gunilla Niss.

Waving goodbye for the first time After a few days, it will be time to leave the child at preschool and wave goodbye, even if you are only gone for a couple of hours. This separation can be just as painful for you as a parent as it is for the child, even if you don't show it by crying or screaming.

Repeated routines provide security. During a good acclimatization, the child will recognize the routines at preschool. When the child sees you putting on your coat, it will soon be time to say goodbye. Don't sneak away; give the child a chance to understand that you are leaving.

Try to make the process as relaxed as possible. Defuse a charged farewell by not showing your own anxiety about how it will go. Hesitating at the door if the child starts crying when you leave only creates more anxiety for the child. Hopefully, the responsible educator has gained enough of the child's trust to provide comfort. However, this only works once you have disappeared.

Additionally, a child must be allowed to feel sad when a parent leaves; it’s nothing unusual. It’s also part of development, learning to cope with grief and eventually finding happiness again. If you feel worried, you can arrange with the staff to check in via phone about a quarter or half an hour after you’ve left, to assess how the child has reacted.

Every child is different, and your child has the right to take the time needed to feel secure in their new environment.

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