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Unhappy Child in Kindergarten

The Kindergarten Transition of Doom

By Amalah

Hi Amy,

So. Yes. My daughter has been in Kindergarten for all of 3 days. I realize that’s not very long for her to adjust to a new environment, teachers, rules etc., but she hates it so far and I feel guilty because it’s kind of my fault.

When she was in preschool last year I asked a few of the parents which kindergarten class they were putting their kids in next year, AM or PM? They were on the fence so I went ahead and made the decision that PM would suit ME best. I also have an almost 2-year-old who naps in the afternoon and the thought of having a few hours to exercise, shower, clean the house etc. sounded fabulous. Well, it turned out that every single one of her little friends ended up in the AM class. By the time I realized it, the AM class was full and she couldn’t be moved.

She’s very sensitive and shy and does not like change. She’s also very girly and there are only 4 other girls in the class and 20 boys. The principal says this will help her build confidence and resilience and part of me knows she’ll make new friends and adjust, but I can’t help worrying that this will set the tone and she’ll hate school from here on out. What can I do to make this transition easier for her?

Thanks,

Feeling Selfish and Guilty

So. First off: Dude. Duuuuude. Cut yourself a break here. This is not your fault! This is called “real life,” where we quite often make decisions based on things like “convenience” or “money” or “having a few hours to yourself to shower/clean/breathe/regroup.” You were faced with a choice that (on the surface, given the information you had at the time) seemed like an even coin toss, so you went with the option that had a slight edge in the scheduling department. That’s not selfish. I probably would’ve done the exact same thing.

And second, I am acutely aware that this is like the pot counseling the kettle, because I personally tortured myself for YEARS over a bad preschool call I made for Noah. Like you, I picked a program that fit my life, schedule and budget, and kinda just assumed it would be a good fit for Noah, I mean, it’s PRESCHOOL, what could go wrong? And then I was overwhelmed with the idea that it was my “fault” that the school ended up being a (stupendously) bad fit, and I regularly beat myself up for continuing to send him there because of “selfish” reasons like…needing to work AND care for a newborn — solo, with no additional childcare — during those hours. And like you, I worried that I’d basically “ruined” school forever for Noah and omg omg omg.

I guess it’s a testament to my growth as a person that now I mostly look back on it all with a shrug, because we did the best we could. The experience got us back on track with early intervention and special education and prompted us to reach out to additional resources and BLAH BLAH, it ended up being a good thing. (Kinda. You know.)

Noah, for the record, has zero memory of any of it. Nor does he have any memory of the first couple months of kindergarten, which he hated — HATED — with the heat of many angry suns. His memories of kindergarten are all good, a complete revisionist version top to bottom. From his second-grade vantage point, kindergarten was easy. (No, it wasn’t.) Kindergarten was fun. (A word he never, ever uttered to describe it, not even once.) He never got in trouble in kindergarten. (HAHAHAHAHA.) I think it took him until after Thanksgiving to really get into the groove — though there were still many, many mornings of woooeeee and I don’t wannnnna. Then I’d watch the bad mood evaporate the second he got around the other kids at the bus stop.

Kids are really, really resilient, and I think three days — hell, three MONTHS — is probably a bit premature to sound the alarm of I HAVE RUINED EVERYTHING. And the whole mental exercise of imagining the “what ifs” of her being in the morning session is useless. Don’t do it. I know it’s tempting and hard to resist but it’s USELESS. Give her time.

And give her time and space at home as well: Resist peppering her with faux-cheery HOW WAS SCHOOL TODAY WAS IT AWESOME questions. (You know, like coming home from a job you don’t like but are trying to make the best of. You probably won’t feel like getting the third degree over every detail the second you get home.) You’ll likely only get negative answers, or (if she senses your dismay over hearing bad reports) she might feel pressured to fake it. You obviously want her to feel comfortable telling you about issues and problems and feelings, but you also don’t want to have the adjustment period bleed into her time at home by pressuring her to rehash all of her grievances.

If you haven’t already, stock her bookshelf with lots of books about going to school, making new friends, etc. I don’t know how the school’s attendance works but you could always inquire about a waitlist for the A.M. session (kids change schools, get identified for special ed, families move, etc.), but mostly just keep an open mind here. Kindergarten IS an adjustment, and there always will be an adjustment period. A girly girl learning to interact and hold her own with boys is a good thing, so is learning to make new friends and adapt to a new routine. As long as she’s not being excluded or picked on by peers or overlooked/ignored by the teacher, giving her time and space to find her own footing at school is a good thing for you, because you’ll probably be in this spot again in future school years. A shy, sensitive child is just always going to find the back-to-school transition to be difficult, especially once there’s no A.M./P.M. choice to make and her classroom/teacher placement is more luck of the draw.

Yes, there’s a lot of change being thrown at her right now and change is HARD, whether you’re five or fifty.  But I’m honestly less worried about your daughter here and more concerned that you get yourself out of this over-harsh loop of blame you’re in. Keep her busy and entertained in the morning so she doesn’t fixate on the upcoming hours at school. Give her downtime afterwards and watch out for the hovering/leading questions. Let her feel her feelings about school but don’t inadvertently allow her to wallow in them. Make sure she’s getting enough sleep. Give her incentives for completing her homework so that’s a positive experience. Schedule playdates with her new classmates. And DEFINITELY get the lines of communication going with her teacher. I can’t tell you the number of times one of my boys has come home to deliver a highly-disturbing account of the social situation — no friends! I have no friends at all! no one wants to play with me and so-and-so is MEAN — and then when I talk to the teacher I get a different version of events (i.e. my kid wanted to play hide-and-seek and so-and-so wanted to play tag instead, the end. OMG THE DRAMA.).

But above all: Go easy on yourself. You’re both gonna be okay.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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