So we are slowly adjusting to the new reality of ‘Big School’. Our morning routine is now totally different and I’m in shock! It’s such a big change for our little ones too, especially those going to school for the first time. I’ve been trying out another idea from the developmental psychology course I did and it has worked a treat so far. It’s the idea of matchmaking where you prime a connection between the child and the teacher. So, from an attachment point of view, the child forms new attachments via the parents. Gordon Neufeld, who runs the course I did, talked about an ideal world in which the preschool teacher would do a home visit and spend some time connecting with the parent(s) as a context for establishing a relationship with the child. When the child sees the parent and teacher connecting, they then feel safer to engage with the teacher. And I know I’ve experienced an unfamiliar toddler bursting into tears when I was friendly to them without having taken the time to have a brief chat with the parent!

Unfortunately, that’s not going to happen for most pre-schoolers or school going children. So what can we do? Well, the first step is connecting and the greeting is really important for engaging the attachment instincts. On my little girl’s first day at school, I was very happy to see the teacher hunker down to be at her eye level. I did the same and led by establishing eye contact with the teacher and saying hello, smiling, doing the introductions. The eye contact, a nod, and maybe a smile are all important elements of this first step. And it’s important for the child to feel welcomed in the teacher’s presence.

I had noticed that the teacher was wearing a dress and my little girl loves dresses so I made a point of telling the teacher that- we can attach to another by finding something in common and thankfully she rose to the occasion and said ‘Oh we’ll have a lot in common so’ and I sighed with relief! (The teacher had given a sign that my little girl was welcome in her presence) This isn’t going to happen every day in a busy class room but I’ve made a point every day of doing the greeting at the least.

Today then I added another element and it has made my day! So we did the greeting all at the same physical level and the teacher gave us time for a bit more chat. I remembered that we had been talking about her at home and wondering about her. So after the greeting, I kick started the conversation by saying we were wondering what was her surname and where did she live? As it turned out, we pass where she lives on our way to visit my in-laws (serendipity!). My little girl smiled when we joked about looking out for the teacher on our way past. Then she mentioned she had a dog and my little girl lit up and wanted to know the dog’s name and we’re off!

Then we had a chat about the origami heart she had in her pocket which she had shown the teacher last week. (Remember from the last post, giving the child something of yours to hold onto can help bridge the separation gap As it turns out, I had one in my pocket too. So she has her heart to hold onto me during the day and she knows I have one too to hold onto her while we’re apart. Well I almost skipped out of there with delight knowing that the foundations for that relationship with the teacher are being set and it’s exciting to try and think of other small, subtle, low key things to do that can continue to build it.

The role of teacher/educator won’t work without engaging attachment instincts. We learn best from people we like and it’s important for the child to attach to the teacher because the nature of attachment is hierarchical. And they need to believe that what their parents and their teachers think of them, matter more than what their peers think. Gordon Neufeld talks about his first teacher. When she met him, she said something like ‘I’m delighted to have you in my class and I’m really looking forward to working with you.’ He adored her (no wonder with that kind of a beginning!). He was bullied and what helped him cope with the bullying was the fact that what his mother and his teacher thought of him mattered more to him than the bullies. Attachments are naturally hierarchical and what keeps a child safe from hurt is a strong emotional relationship with a caring adult because the adult acts a shield against hurt inflicted by peers.
So the idea it to make a point of greeting the teacher, being at the same level physically as the child, and trying to get eye contact, a nod, or a smile. Gordon Neufeld calls this collecting. Once you have collected, then you can prime the connection by drawing attention to a liking, a likeness, something that’s important to the child. This is matchmaking which is basically getting two people to think they like each other. You’re trying to create a working relationship, engaging for the sake of engaging.

You know your child best so there’s no strict recipe to follow for this and it doesn’t always go neatly. For example, one of the days I started to tell the teacher about how my little girl loves the story of the three little pigs and it felt all wrong because in hindsight, I didn’t pay attention to the collecting part and launched into it too directly.  So it all felt a bit random and awkward!! But you live and learn and you’ll definitely know when it has worked! However, today more than made up for my three little pigs moment!

I’d love to hear what your first days at school have been like and your thoughts on the ideas in this post so be sure and comment below. And I’d love it if you passed it onto your friends.

Let’s get talking!


  1. Love this Mary Pat! So true..!

  2. Thank you Mary Pat. I didn’t have all these tips last year, thank you for shortening the road. This context is great, along with the ‘odd’ mistake. I know of 1 young lady who will really benefit from the ‘bridging gap’ this evening. Keep up the good work. Clodagh

  3. It is so true and something I’ve always done when meeting parents, and now of course when meeting teachers of my own child. I think many teachers do this instinctively anyway as it’s important to let parents know that we have the same goal,the happiness and development of the child.

    • Hi Colm- thanks so much for taking the time to comment and I agree completely about the shared goals of the happiness and development of the child!

  4. Ahh MP, thanks for this – great info. Is Neufield the psychologist? Can you go over the collecting piece again – is it the establishment of shared/common ground?

    • Yes- Gordon Neufeld is the psychologist- I really love his approach- it feels so compassionate. So the collecting is where you do the greeting- you’re aiming to get eye contact, a smile or a nod. He would say you collect before you direct so that means you work on the relationship first rather than trying to get the child to do what you want without any warming up. He calls it our attachment manners! The common ground then is one of the ways of attaching to another person where you focus on something you have in common or something that’s the same or similar. Hope that helps!

  5. Mary Pat, my 5-year old and 4-year old regularly give me trinkets to “mind for them” as we separate for the day work and school/montessori. It never dawned on me that this could be a ritual to help break the separation gap each day. Very interesting. I agree that the parent making the connection with the teacher re-assures the child. I found this with my daughter when she started school. It helped her to build an attachment with the teacher quickly and to settle in her new environment. It was instinctive, given that was the practice in her childcare (where there was an ethos of parent partnership between parents & child-carer in the creche). I am trying to do the same now in senior infants, a little trickier as her class size has grown significantly and so it’s all a bit busier, but just a regular greeting with the teacher to re-assure my daughter that we have her back! All the more important to me as I only accompany my daughter once a week to school due to work arrangements.

    • Hi Susan- thanks so much for commenting! That’s so lovely about your children and the trinkets! And the regular greeting really is so important for everyone and makes us feel good too!

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