Some children are born fiercely independent, taking their first steps without ever looking back, whereas others need to hold their parents’ hands for a bit longer. If Baby is on the more timid end of the spectrum, you may find yourself wondering when they will be ready to face school and group classes on their own. The key is not to look just at their age, but instead to look at their ability to adjust to situations when you’re not there with them.
A number of factors play into a child’s readiness to begin activities ON their own. You may find that Baby can do some tasks at home – like using the potty, or putting on their shoes, for example – but can’t when they are being cared for by someone else. Since separation anxiety is common in toddlers, Baby may be too focused on the fact that you’re not with them to act in a way that shows their full potential. In cases like this, they may not be ready to be in a group setting without you just yet.
Here are some common concerns parents have about their children beginning classes on their own, and simple solutions to help get them ready for the transition.
My child doesn’t play well on their own.
For Baby, entering a group setting without their favorite playmate (you!) can feel intimidating. However, it’ll go much more smoothly if they have the chance to get used to playing on their own first. You can work on this at home by encouraging a brief period of “quiet time” every day that gives them some time to play without you by their side. From there, you can gradually build up the amount of independent playtime Baby has every day, so that they can begin to adjust to entertaining themself for a growing period of time.
My child isn’t physically ready.
If Baby seems behind their peers in the self-care department, don’t fret. Some children just catch on more quickly to concepts like washing their own hands, dressing themselves, and, yes, potty training. For children who are disinterested in those areas, your best bet is to be consistent at home with a routine. Be verbal in your approach so they will be able to connect words with actions, even in unfamiliar settings. Once they see and hears what is expected, they will likely be more inclined to follow directions. And a little praise goes a long way!
My child doesn’t deal with transitions well.
Since group classes often shift from one activity to the next, getting Baby used to transitions ahead of time can really help them out in a class setting. You can practice by explaining to them that they have a set amount of time to play, then it’s time to transition to another activity, like eating or taking a bath. It’s common for this to be met with resistance, but they will begin to understand the concept quickly.
My child doesn’t play well with others.
This one might not be as much of a problem as you think. For toddlers, the idea of having to share toys is absurd, and biting is a perfectly reasonable way to exert their authority. You can work on this by repeatedly explaining – even if you sound like a broken record – proper behavior and expectations. But this kind of behavior isn’t unexpected in a toddler. Unless Baby seems particularly aggressive, chances are the issues at hand are age-appropriate and will become better in time.
The bottom line:
Change can be overwhelming for toddlers, so the best approach in encouraging independence is generally a gradual one. You can start putting this gradual change into action with just one class per week, for example, before adding anything else to Baby’s activity schedule. If they are starting preschool, you can often talk to the staff about dropping Baby off for just an hour or two on the first few days, until they start to get better acclimated. While tears may fall those first few of days, soon they might actually start to enjoy their newfound independence – and you may soon be wiping their tears because class is over and playtime has come to an end!