Hello Dr. Markham,
My 19-month old son just started preschool. Previously he had been home with me until 14 months (and a nanny/his aunt 16 hours a week) and then home full time with my husband from 14-19 months. Now my husband and I are both working full time, so he's started preschool 9 hours/5 days a week. I'm writing to ask how I know if he is adjusting well, and if this a good situation, and how/when to make the call if its not? He cries a little when I drop him off, and for the first few days he cried during transitions at school. Since then, the teachers have reassured me that he is doing very well, bonding with teachers and other kids, which they say is rare this early on. This is confirmed when I come to pick him up and he doesn't want to leave. I really do trust the teachers, and think they are very caring, loving and patient with the kids. The problems, however, seem to be manifesting at home. He has been pretty much non-stop tantruming and screaming in the mornings when we are getting ready for work, and a good chunk of time on evenings and weekends. I know this is an age for tantrums, but I just can't understand how these behaviors would develop overnight. He has always been an easy-going, gentle kid and now seems the opposite. My hunch is that he is learning these behaviors from observing the older kids, but even if that is the case, is this good for him? He is still very upset for most of the time we are together now. So, my question is, how do I know if this situation is not working for him? What are some of the signs? And how long do I wait before making the call? My husband and I are so happy that we were able to be home with him until 19-months and that he developed into such a loving, gentle boy, and now are worried that all of our dedication and AP will be undone overnight. I also don't have to continue working, so getting out of this situation is a possibility. Although I wonder if being home with me all day long would be less enriching than preschool at this age. I appreciate any insight you might have on the topic. I have very few people tp discuss this with in my life.
I agree with your assessment that while some 19-month olds are prone to tantrums, it doesn't just come out of the blue. And in my experience, many toddlers who are AP parented never tantrum much. If your son did not tantrum previously but began when he started school, then you are probably right that he is responding to being in school for 9 hours/5 days a week.
Clearly, your son is liking the school. He does not cry while he is there, he is bonding with the kid and teachers, and he doesn't want to leave when you pick him up. That is all great news. Of course, he still cries some when you drop him off, so he is still upset about separating from you.
I seriously doubt that your son is learning nonstop tantruming and screaming from the other kids. I have never heard of that, to tell you the truth. When kids come home and tantrum they are showing us how upset they are. So if they say a child at school tantruming and it upset them, then they might well come home and tantrum, not because they "learned" it but because they are showing us their upset feelings.
Instead, I would theorize that he is very upset about this separation from you, and he is showing you that in the best way he knows how. Most of the time he is with you, he is upset, which means he is very upset about this new situation, even though he is trying to rise to the occasion and make the most of things at school.
So should you quit and stay home with him? If you really can, I would. I know that is a very individual decision. But there is nothing he gets at school that he cannot get in his life with you. In fact, being at home is NOT less enriching for a 19 month old, who is generally not ready for full time school. He will do much better with a parent, and if you want, some classes (music, swim) or playgroups that allow him to interact with other kids. This is my opinion, but it is based on very wide and deep reading. Here is an article I wrote on the best age for kids to start daycare, which summarizes the research: http://www.ahaparenting.com/CustomContentRetrieve.aspx?ID=3428775
So, my question is, how do I know if this situation is not working for him? What are some of the signs?
He will be unhappy, either at school or at home. You will see changes in behavior. I would say that you already know it is not working for him.
And how long do I wait before making the call?
I would wait a week from the first day. Then, why continue to put him through this if he is showing you he is not yet ready for school? Things will be different in a year.
Now, what will happen if you don't stop working? He will, in fact, get used to going to school. But he is already showing you that it is very hard for him, so we know it will cost him a lot. There will be permanent changes in him, and in your relationship. I would not take that path if I had a choice. Wait a year.
You are so lucky that you are able to be with your son. He was a gentle, happy, child who -- when he started school -- became a screaming, tantruming child. There is no reason it is better for him to go to school -- none. Thank goodness you're holding the magic wand to restore your happy home. Good luck!