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  • Preschool Struggles

    My 3.5 year old sensitive daughter started preschool 1 month ago. She has since started showing signs of stress and anxiety (separation anxiety not just at school, waking up at night, asking for a bottle, asking if I'm mad at her, ....). It's only 2 days a week, 2 hours each class. So far I have been taking her and staying with her in the classroom. I did step outside for a few minutes the first two days. Day one was fine. Day two she got worried and the teacher let her see me but wouldn't let her come to me which resulted in a lot of crying and understandable upset on her part. Since then, I have been sitting in class by the door and have reassured her each day that although we will work toward me leaving, I will not be leaving today. Regardless, she asks me over and over again if I'm going to leave, wants to cling to me, will not go anywhere that she can't see me and although she does end up playing a bit she keeps coming back to me throughout the class and asking again and again if I'm going to stay. I have never snuck out on her at preschool or anywhere else. The preschool teacher has been patient but is now starting to put pressure on for me to just start leaving even if she cries... even if it's only for a few minutes at the beginning.

    We've always taken a very gentle approach with my daughter in the past and for a few reasons I'm not sure I'm comfortable with leaving her crying with the teacher (even for a few minutes):
    1) she is always sensitive, extremely attached to me and slow to transition but if we let her take her time she usually gets there eventually
    2) she usually really resists if we push things and I'm worried that we've already made her anxious about preschool and that she'll only resist more
    3) she doesn’t 'need' to go to preschool, my main reason was wanting her to get some exposure now so all day kindergarten isn't such a big shock - but I don't want her to have a negative association with school

    The problem is that I don't think the preschool will be supportive of my continuing to stay until she finally is ok with me leaving and I wonder if she even will be ok with that given the bumpy beginning we've had. The other major reason is that I'm expecting baby #2 in a month so I can't just go and sit in class with a newborn. I think some of her current stress is also related to her anticipation of the new baby and I can only imagine that part and the separation anxiety could get worse in the coming month.

    On the other hand, the teacher said she's concerned that my daughter is getting the message that she isn't capable and I certainly don't want her to feel that either. I am torn... Any advice or thoughts or experience would be greatly appreciated.

    Thank you!

  • #2
    I used to work in a Montessori that started at birth. The philosophy was that separation should be swift and projected with an air of confidence. A "Love you, see you after lunch" and then brief exit was required. The reasoning was that prolonging a goodbye communicated to the child that there was something to worry about and that it would increase the separation anxiety in the child. When the child had "practice" with the parent returning, just like he/she said she would built confidence and trust. I am not entirely sure how I felt about this. There were some children that absolutely thrived in this routine. There were others that really struggled.

    I think it's too difficult to really know what a toddler may be feeling. I don't believe we should project our adult psychobabble onto them. They are not simply smaller versions of ourselves. Your staying with her could be contributing to her stress. She may think that you are making such a big deal of this that leaving her must be something really awful. Or, your staying with her could eventually lead to her confidence and she may feel really great about her new school. Ultimately, you have to feel good about your choices. You know your child best.

    I can share that I personally did preschool with both of my children. They both attended half days 5 days/week. We had our ups and downs, for sure. Now, they are 6 and 9 and are doing great in school. We have a strong relationship and I am always getting compliments on how compassionate, kind, and smart they are. I don't mean to advocate for preschool either way, only to say that attachment can be strong and foundational through a variety of family decisions.

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    • #3
      Thanks PaxMamma. The Montessori philosophy is basically what the preschool teacher believes in as well. I certainly can understand both sides. I am having a hard time coming to terms with the concept though. It seems inconsistent with the rest of our parenting. I know it's a different scenario but we didn't do cry it out at nighttime, we try to always respond sensitively and take into account her feelings and needs otherwise. So, now to turn around and say “we know you don't want to go to preschool. We know you don't like being separated from us. But we're going to do it anyway because we think that it is right for you” doesn't really feel right. But, I do get the concept that because we are so otherwise responsive she would hopefully trust us that it must be safe otherwise we wouldn't be leaving her. Hmmm... if only we had a crystal ball :-)

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      • #4
        I totally understand what you are saying. There are so many other surrounding factors that could affect a family's choice in these situations. For instance, single parents have to work and have no choice about daycare or preschool. So the aforementioned confident, loving goodbye is necessary. Other families have the luxury of choice and so they can make other decisions. You have an impending birth which you must factor in. Everyone has to do the best they can in the circumstances that are given. The fact that you are so carefully considering this scenario leads me to believe that your daughter is well-loved and that you are on the right track.

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