Sunday, March 02, 2008

Kindergarten Blues

This week has been a major struggle with our attempt to get Youngest into kindergarten. She is five now and should have one year of kindergarten before starting school next year, though she is on the cusp of the cut-off birthday date and so could wait one more year after that.

She went to another small kindergarten with her big sister for a few months when she was 3 ½ but then suddenly went through a huge separation anxiety phase for several months. (We're not sure what triggered it, though she had been sick that week, and her favourite aunt had been in hospital with pneumonia a month before that).

Last year I tried to start her in the kindergarten of the school where the older children are (the small one having closed), but it was big and noisy and she really didn't seem ready, so I left it till this year, since I'm working from home anyway. She spent her mornings last year quite happily playing elaborate imaginative games, drawing, playing with the rabbit and guinea-pigs, while I was at the computer.

The beginning of this school year found me back in the UK, my father having just died, so my husband was left with the job of taking her to the first day at school. He stayed with her for a couple of hours and then left her. She retreated behind the curtains for the rest of the morning, neither eating nor going to the loo, nor playing. He decided to wait.

Once I got back we decided that I should take her a couple of mornings per week and stay with her, to give her a chance to get used to it all and find her feet. So we've done that for about three weeks now, some days going quite well, other days with hiccups. I've been trying to stay unobtrusively in the background wherever possible, finding sewing jobs to do to stop me going crazy with the tedium! She has got one friend there, so she has been alright as long as she could sit beside this friend, hold hands with this friend at ring time and play with her in outside time. Any unfamiliar activity had her retreating back to the curtains or to me, but I was hoping that we're making progress.

She had a gastric flu bug at the beginning of last week though - not too bad but a fever for a couple of days, which sent her back into cling mode. We missed a day of school and I turned up with her the next day to be told that the teachers had decided that I shouldn't stay any more with her, that it was school policy that parents shouldn't stay and that if a child wasn't ready to leave its mother then it wasn't ready for school. I was first upset then furious. I insisted on staying with her that day, as we'd had no preparation for this next step - the kindergarten teacher said it was fine with her, that it was a decision made at the teachers' meeting and I should discuss it with the other teachers.

I've spent the rest of the week in an emotional turmoil trying to work out the right thing to do - for her. I protested to the teachers and I can write a letter to ask them to reconsider, but that doesn't help for next week. We've had a couple of conversations with Youngest herself to prepare her for going by herself, but this separation thing is still a huge issue for her and so far she is adamant that she isn't going to go without me. This child is by far the most stubborn (or strong-willed if you prefer!) of the three, but also extremely sensitive, so I worry about her being traumatised if we take her in kicking and screaming against her will.

One element in all this is that we are not 100% confident in the kindergarten itself. The previous one was small with 12 children and an experienced teacher. This one has 25 kids, a teacher and assistant, but less experienced. The older two are at this school though and any alternative would mean another half hour drive and complicated school run logistics, so we want to give it a chance.

My husband is deputed to have another talk with her. Right now the emotional washing machine inside me means I can't see straight on it, let alone be detached and convincing about why she should be brave and take a deep breath and go.

Has anyone else had to deal with this level of separation anxiety? She was fine when I went to England, it is just with regard to school that it is a big deal again, and when she was sick and had to have me near her all the time. I am flirting with the idea that there is some past life baggage behind it all, as there is no great trauma in this life to explain it. Or is you don't do past lives, then just part of her character that she was born with - her major life challenge. Shame that her parents have to go through the wringer too!

Edited to add: I've just looked back at my post from her first leaving kindergarten in 2006 - my blithe confidence that it was going to be a short lived phase has be in growls of sardonic laughter!


  1. Oh Kit, I am sorry that you and your daughter are having such a tough time. I don't have any advice to offer, but I have noticed with my youngest that if there is any trauma in the house that morning (even something as small as a lost set of car-keys) or change of routine (Daddy taking him instead of Mummy), then there is some clinginess when he gets to kindergarten.

    I do have a friend who had similar trouble settling her daughter down in kindergarten. I think they allowed her to go every day for six weeks, which seems tedious, but my friend was determined that the process be as gentle and kind as possible so that once the child was left alone at KG, she wasn't traumatised. Towards the end, she would leave for short periods and return, until they finally settled on Mummy staying for a short while and saying goodbye for the morning.

    I admire my friend's determination to do it her way and her sensitivity to her child. I think you should follow your instinct and ask the kindergarten to let you do it your way. You know your daughter best - far better than they do.

    Good luck. Let us know how it goes.

  2. Ok, bottom line--tough love.

    I know that may sound entirely unsympathetic, and I do apologize for it, but the question does come up whether her separation anxiety may be an exention of the parents' connection to her, not necessarily her individual needs and personality. This doesn't mean that you are notably more attached to her than any other children you may have, but what it does mean is that she may be more attune to your parental connection to her than your other children.

    Tough love, as a parent, sucks because you're going to feel guilty. That's why it is important to ask whether or not this is a difficult case for you because of the particular behavior of the child in question, or because of how you feel about it--or it could be a combination of the two (her realizing how you feel and reacting to it). She may sense your anxiety and be "acting out" because she is "playing on" it.

    This may offer no insight at all, and if so, I apologize. I do not pretend for a minute this is easy, and I certainly hope that things work out best for her.

  3. Kit I agree with both CHarlotte and Pilgrimchick. I am told I used to howl until my mom had left the building, play quite happily all day and howl for 5 minutes before pick up time. You can imagine the trauma that caused my mom. She even drove away, parked down the street and snuck back to check that the teachers were telling her the truth. They were! I also battled to get my daughter to let go (also a waldorf playschool) until the teacher said I was just waiting for her to cling so she did what she thought I wanted. I tried it her way, just a big hug and a kiss then left, and it worked. I noticed she was quite clingy with the teacher in the beginning, but a waldorf teacher should be prepared to offer that comfort and reassurance, after all, if youngest is secure in that she should be able to happily go off and play. In theory. Maybe she senses your reservations about the teachers? I wish I could give you an answer, but I think end of the day, you are paying for the school, you are a 'customer' they should give you what you want. Trust your insincts.

  4. I'm not a mom, so can't give advice from that perspective, but I can tell you about my own experience. My mom took me to a small kindergarten near our house when I was about 4 and a half - and I screamed so much and made such a fuss that she could not leave, and after a week she gave up and I just stayed home with her till I went to "proper" school. I went to a little Catholic school about 5 blocks from our house and on the first day, predictably I HOWLED. The lovely Irish nun Sister Baptist just said to my mom "you run along now, dear, and she'll be fine" - and I was. I had a good time at school, I made friends and I loved my teachers. But... on the first day of the term EVERY TERM in the first 3 years of my school career, I howled when I was dropped off. My poor, poor mother! Despite this, I remember loving school. The first time I started a school term without copious weeping was when I started an a new school in Std 2 (now Grade 4) which was much bigger. I wanted to cry, but there were so many other girls, so when my mom left, I blinked hard and followed the teacher to the classroom. I never cried again at the start of a term.

    Not sure if that helps, but at the very least it shows that a) going to kindergarten is not essential for a successful start to school and b) the fact that there is weeping might not indicate as much trauma as adults imagine.

    Good luck - I hope you find a solution...


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!