Less than two weeks ago, the Captain started daily pre-k. Things were great at first, but they got worse. A lot worse. He started on a Wednesday and absolutely loved it. Thursday he cried and said it was because he didn't like the noisy cafeteria, which they had to go to first thing. Thursday is also soccer practice day, and the day he gets a little one-on-one from an awesome homeschool teacher, that I'm glad we didn't have to give up because he loves. By Friday, he was tired and totally did not want to go to school. He even mentioned that if I didn't make him go to school, he would go take a nap….which, he hates napping these days, so I knew it was serious. I had to pry his hands from the carseat and carry him inside. Thankfully, it was only a few feet because at 42 lbs, he's quite heavy for this preggo mommy! By the end of this traumatic experience, he was screaming and crying, D was crying and confused, and I was feeling sadness and guilt. I wasn't sure that we had made the right decision, but I said a prayer for him and went home with D.
When I went to pick him up a few hours later, he was smiling and he said he liked school. The teacher said he had a good day and stopped crying. The Captain said he cried through the cafeteria time and part of recess, but then enjoyed the rest of the day. It's so awful to think that your child is crying and you can't do anything for them. Friends of mine said it was good for him, that it would prepare him for other life experiences, and he would be fine. Well, fine he was, but I am not sure that it was necessarily "good" for him, but I guess that's all dependent on how you look at things. I know people that have never been left at school, crying and screaming, and they turned out just fine. I know quite a few adults who were homeschooled that have adjusted to life quite well, so I don't really think that all of this is a necessary evil, but it's just something we have to look at as a family. It's a personal parenting decision.
Hubby and I talked and prayed about it and while things still aren't 100% fabulous and the Captain still has moments of "I don't want to go to school" and "I wish we could eat in our room and not the cafeteria," I think it'll be okay. After Labor Day weekend, he didn't cry when I dropped him off, although he did say he got a little sad during playground time because he missed us. Towards the end of last week, he said he was happy at playground time and has found even more friends to play with. Yesterday was the first Monday he attended, which I thought would be hard because Daddy doesn't work on Monday and he knows it, but he was okay. I spent some special Mother-Son time with him and let him come with me to the doctor for a baby check-up. He loves coming with me to the doctor, and the fact it was just him and me was a very special treat for him. He even learned a huge lesson when a sweet old lady was lost when her assisted living van dropped her off at my doctor's office instead of two blocks over where her doctor was. We gave her a ride and were so blessed by getting to talk to her. What a wonderful learning experience!
The Captain reported yesterday that, for the first time, he didn't cry at all during school, and he had a great time. AND he even learned a fun new song that I used to teach my kids when I taught kindergarten: "Tooty Ta!" He was quite thrilled when he learned that I knew this song, too! Last night, he woke me up at 5 AM saying he was a little sad about school, but after I went and tucked him back in his bed, he was fine. It's NOT an overnight thing. Kids go through phases and some adjustments are just really, really hard.
We don't have all the answers, as we only do what we feel is best for our kid, but I felt a need to write down some of the things that worked for us. Maybe I'll be referencing these in a few years when D starts to school, too, haha, so I need to remember!
- extra attention – the Captain has been more snuggly when he's at home and that's perfectly fine with us! Going to school or daycare is a huge adjustment and if snuggling is what he needs, snuggling is what he gets!
- lunchbox notes – Since the Captain's sadness seems to peak in the loud cafeteria, I knew I had to continue providing him with distractions in his lunchbox. I have printed out search and find pictures and taped them to the inside lid of his lunchbox and written on napkins, but there are many sites with super cute lunchbox notes, too.
- frankincense – I asked one of my friend which essential oils helped with anxiety, because, while he doesn't have a huge case of anxiety and I don't think a 4 year old should be medicated or evaluated for what is purely natural and understandable, I felt it couldn't hurt to try some natural, side effect free essential oils to help calm him a bit. She suggested lavender and frankincense. I happened to have some and you know what? It really has helped. He thinks it's cool and smells good, and has personally attributed his feeling better to the frankincense. You might insist that it's placebo effect, but who's to say, really? It has helped! It sure doesn't hurt to remind him that it was one of Jesus' first gifts, too. He thinks that's really cool.
- hazelwood/amber necklace – Again, could totally be placebo, but he has been asking to wear his necklace every day when he hasn't worn it for long periods, for months.
- supportive teachers – I know, you can't really predict or ensure that your child gets great teachers, but you can do something to help. Open the lines of communication with your child's teacher(s) and know that they're just doing their job. Send a note of encouragement, tell them thank you, or just smile at them. We felt that the Captain's teachers were being patient with us and were doing a great job at encouraging him, even though they could've just treated him as an annoying, crying kid. The teachers are a huge part of why he likes school and for that, I am thankful.
- classroom incentives – This wasn't under our control, either, but most classes do have incentives. If the Captain gets a green smiley face for good behavior, five days in a row, he gets to go to the treasure chest. This was motivation for him and he absolutely melted my heart when he decided to use his hard work to get ME this sparkly purple necklace:
- at home incentives – The Captain and I had a discussion after three days of school, when he was calm and relaxed. We talked about what he could work on and what he would like to work FOR. I told him that it was perfectly acceptable to cry when he is sad. Some people might disagree, but he is four, for crying out loud! God created him to have emotions and just because he is a male, he shouldn't have to suppress his feelings. So, I told him it was okay to cry when he felt sad but it was not okay to scream and kick when it was time to go to school. I explained that it just made others around him sad and that he could hurt others, too. So, I told him that if he worked hard at NOT throwing a big fit at drop off, for four days, he could earn a t-shirt of his favorite show, Wild Kratts. He was excited and he agreed. Now, he may have been fine without this incentive to work for, but well, I had already ordered him a Wild Kratts shirt and it helped to bring the message home. But, it turned out that by the time school rolled around again, he wanted to use that incentive to get his Daddy a Wild Kratts shirt, not himself! He wanted to give his Daddy something and he wanted to work for it. So yesterday, his shirt came in and I made Daddy and iron-on Wild Kratts shirt to match. He was thrilled about it when he got home from school!!!
- encouragement – this is Daddy's specialty. I am inclined to reward him with hugs, kisses, high-fives, and getting to choose where we eat a special dinner. Daddy is really good at telling him how brave he has been and how proud of him that he is. I've definitely learned a lot from Daddy during this experience.
- distractions – When the Captain says something like "I am feeling a little nervous about school," I address it with "I know, but it will be okay" and then try to change the subject. If he's not ready to change the subject, he lets me know, but getting him to focus on something else is oftentimes helpful.
All in all, remember that every child is different. The Captain is probably a tiny bit more emotional and anxious than the average 4 year old, but then again, maybe not. After talking to many of my friends with 4 year olds, I feel that he is quite normal. But, what is "normal" for your child may not be normal for other kids. Just go with it and do what's best for your family. If he continued to scream and cry about school or if it affected other parts of his life for longer than 2 weeks, then we would have definitely reevaluated and possibly pulled him out of school. And that's not out of the question now, either. I know the advice of some is "just deal with it" and "this too shall pass," but they don't know your kid, only you do. They're not in your shoes at the present moment so all they can do is offer advice. If it doesn't help, say thanks and shrug it off. We all try to do what's best for our kids and it's not anyone else's "right" to understand why we do what we do. This is something that's hard for me because I care what people think but, as a parent, we just have to put our kids first, trust God, and hope for the best.
Good luck with whatever parenting decisions you are having to face right now, if there are any! You are doing a great job!