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help with rough transition to preschool?

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 

My DD will be 3 years old in about 3 months, and she just started a preschool this fall, for just two mornings a week.  Before this preschool experience she has always been pretty good with separation - her grandmother watches her during the day, and she has always been fine going between grandma and mom or dad.  She has also been fine being left with my sister as the babysitter.  (Frankly, in these other contexts she often doesn't even notice when I leave, or bother to say goodbye unless I remind her.)


The first two days at school were a transition time and I stayed, and while she did want me to play with her, I kept explaining that I was there to watch and she was mostly ok with that.  But the last few weeks her issues with separating have really been escalating - the last two mornings, she has spent three hours before we left for school crying and telling me that she did not want to go.  Each of the last three times I have dropped her off it has gotten worse: the first time she cried but I was able to comfort her and then she went off ok with the teacher; the second time she kept crying and I could not comfort her so I just had to leave while she was crying; this morning she screamed and sobbed hysterically and clung to me with all her strength and had to be forcibly pried off of me and taken off by the teacher.  I was really not comfortable with that at all.  


I had expected that it could take a few weeks or a month (and in rare cases longer) for her to stop crying when I drop her off, but I had expected that it would gradually improve, not get progressively worse and worse.  


The teachers have said that she does calm down (although not necessarily immediately) and mostly participates in the activities, although she still cries some during the day.  It hasn't been enough for them to call me, though.  We have tried a specific routine with dropoff, I have tried explaining exactly what we are going to do and when, I have explained to her that the teacher can reach me if she is really sick or upset but that as long as she is just a little sad that it is better for her to try to play along with the teachers and other kids or to hug her stuffed animal, she brings a special stuffed animal with her every day, I've let her bring special treats with her also like her favorite stickers, and today we had her bring her special slippers that she wears at home.  At home we have talked about what she does at school, and who the other kids are, and why it's important for her to try to enjoy her time there, and about ways that she can cope if she is missing one of us or if she is sad.  But none of this seems to be working.  I really don't know what to do.  


I get the theory that the transition is better if it is quick and follows a regular routine, but how am I actually supposed to walk out the door if she is clinging like death to me and has to be physically pried off me by the teacher as she is having hysterics?  I've just never had to deal with this before with her - in all our other discipline or boundary setting, I've been able to explain to her calmly what we were doing and why, and on the rare occasions when I did have to let her cry a bit about something, she would cry for 5 minutes or so and then stop and recover and move on.  But she is just not doing that in this situation, and our discussions or explanations about school are not helping at all - she refuses to listen to them or to engage in them - no matter what I say she just repeatedly says that she does not want to go to school, that if we go to school she wants me to stay, and that she misses me.  


What am I supposed to say if all my kid will talk about all morning for three hours straight is how much she does NOT want to go to school?  Nothing I say calms her down, or makes it better, or gets her to change the subject.  


I don't think the school itself is a bad fit, as it is right next door to us in a building/neighborhood that she is already familiar with, the teachers all seem very kind and patient, it is very small with a good teacher/kid ratio, she does seem to come home singing the songs that they learn there and showing me her artwork, and they have even given her special attention because she is the only new kid this term (the others were all there last year or participated in a summer program).  I feel that it is a good time for her to go, because she doesn't have any friends yet but seems to want them, and because next year we will have to transition her to a full-day preschool, and I think it will be gentler for her if she can adapt to this "few mornings a week" this year before going full-time next year.  When she is not crying that she wants me to be there, she seems to participate well and enjoy herself there.  


I'm just hoping someone here might have advice about how to better talk with her about the school, and about how to handle leaving when she isn't just crying a little but really hysterical?  I feel like everything I've tried so far has just made it worse...


Thanks for taking the time to read my post!

post #2 of 9
When does she need to go to full time preschool, in the winter/spring or next school year? If it's next school year then I would keep her home for the fall and try again with just a couple days in the spring. A lot can happen in a child's development in just a few months. But the fact that she's crying for hours makes me think that she is just not ready right now. It seems severe. Sometimes, kids just aren't ready. Would it be possible for you to wait a few more months and try again?
post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the reply, dalia.  We precisely started now instead of in the spring because we have a baby due in Feb, and I thought that her adjusting to the new baby and preschool at the same time would be way too much (and might make her feel like we were trying to "get rid of her" once the new baby was here)...


In terms of our flexibility with giving her options, now is really a better time: my husband and I both work FT, but my schedule is fairly flexible for now until the new baby arrives in Feb - because of work and the new baby next year (either in the spring or the fall) will not be a time when we will really be able to hang around the school for a lot of extra time, or take her out if she doesn't want to go.  Right now I can give her a lot of extra attention and be more flexible with what I do, and I really worry about us having no choice about when to leave her in school once we have a new baby and FT work to keep up with...


I've been wondering if I should talk to the school and ask if I can just stay there for now, maybe telling her that I will stay on the couch at the sidelines if she will stay calm and participate with the other kids, and then I could gradually leave earlier and earlier as she is comfortable.  Right now my schedule is flexible enough that I could bring my work with me and just work there for a bit until she gets more used to things and feels more in control of the goodbyes.  But it could also just make things worse, and I'm not sure how the school would feel about letting me stay - I'll have to discuss this with them if I decide this is what I think we should do.  


I don't know if this is right, but I keep feeling that it isn't being in school itself that is the problem, but the fact that she has no control over when I go away.  I think if she felt more that I would not go unless she was ok with it, that she would more quickly be ok with my leaving.   (I think the more I have just left her even when she was upset that this had just make her fear of my leaving even worse.)  But I don't really know how to help her to feel that way without agreeing to stay there until she is ok with my leaving, and I'm concerned that the school will be against that and/or that it could go on for months and months, or that it could backfire and just make her more upset if I stay and hang around...  I'm wondering if trying it just once (assuming I can get the school to agree) would make things worse if it doesn't work and she just gets more upset?


I can ask her grandma to take her to school instead of me, but I'm not very comfortable with that because I'm not sure that she won't do the same thing with grandma, and because I'm afraid she will just go back to flipping out again once I am the one to drop her off, even if we put it off for a few more weeks. This would also mean that I would never see the school myself (as I am not the one to pick her up), and I'm not very comfortable with that - I want the teachers to know me, and I want to be able to see the dynamics between the teachers and the kids, and to see how DD interacts with all of them.  (There are also some dynamics with her grandma, my MIL, that are not great, and I don't want to make them worse by involving her in the school dropoff - she's mostly great with my DD, and we get along ok on the surface, but there are areas where we get into friction with one another, and I think the school dropoff will just be one more area where that happens and I don't want any more power struggles about how DD should be raised - I try to just avoid topics where we disagree if we can - but if somehow this would really help DD with the transition, I don't want to rule it out.)


I keep waiting for my intuition to give me a better idea of what really seems like the "right" thing to do, and I just don't feel that any option is the "right" one right now...

post #4 of 9
I think if the school will allow you to stay for a while then that would be the route that I would take. If she was just crying a little bit it would be one thing, but crying for hours is not typical in my opinion. I think if the school won't allow it then that says something about the school. They may try to discourage it but I wouldn't let them sway me from what I think is best were I in your shoes. It's a tough situation. I hope you are able to work it through!
post #5 of 9

I wondered if you had had a chance to sit down with the teachers and really talk through this problem? Have they seen other children in their school that have taken this long to adjust? How do they conceptualize the problem? Has she bonded with one of the teachers in a special way. If not, could someone take a little extra time to develop a stronger relationship with her?  I think sometimes a child is just not feeling good about the relationships when s/he can't really say why but doesn't want to go somewhere. There also could be something that is challenging her too much at this point, but again she can't put it into words. Something like another child with a very strong personality who is borderline bullying, or the demands of circle time, etc. She might just be having an overall stress response to the new demands all put together.


Typically after this long with a poor adjustment, it makes sense to back out and try again in a  year. I hear all your reasons for moving forward on it. I think before any decisions are made, a good thorough conversation with the teachers would be a useful step. Are there any other preschools nearby?

post #6 of 9
Thread Starter 

I thought I would update again.  Shortly after these problems, our DD seemed to suddenly get over them and to be very happy going to school.  I don't really think we changed anything, so it is baffling.  Now she talks happily about school, and about her friends there, and she is excited to go in the morning.  The change was very abrupt, and I still don't understand the about-face, but since things are going well, I'm not questioning it. :)


I don't know if this is just a part of my daughter's personality?  Escalating resistance followed by sudden acceptance?  Has anyone else had that pattern with their toddler?  I'm a bit baffled by how she could be so upset, and now so happy with the whole thing...  Maybe it is just her personality to cope with change by dramatic resistance that escalates, and then to suddenly come to terms with it?


Anyway, at least for us this was a happy ending for now!

post #7 of 9

Wow that is so interesting!!!  Did any students leave that had been there? 


YOu may be right, it may just be her temperament--slow to warm and difficulty with changes.

post #8 of 9

That was similar to the way ds handled his transition to preschool.  Although he went from totally happy to go, to crying and miserable, back to happy to go.  When I met with his teachers they pretty much said that a lot of kids go through ups and downs and what is working now might not continue to work in 6 months with nothing external changing.  I know that ds likes to really know what is going to happen.  He needs to go somewhere multiple times before feeling like he understands the place and then he forms a more cohesive opinion about it.

post #9 of 9

This looks like separation anxiety combined with resistance to change. I've seen a ton of kids go through this (I work at a preK), and almost all of them are very resistant to leaving their moms or dads in the morning. Eventually, as they make friends and get to know the teachers, they do just fine. 


Edit: I just saw your updated post that she is doing fine and made some friends. :) Congrats, and hopefully you can use the the way this turned out to show her that new experiences are not so scary. 

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