Slow-to-warm-up is not a bad thing

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  September 29, 2009 06:00 AM

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Hi Barbara,

I have a daughter who is almost 4 1/2 years old. She started preschool last January and did okay in terms of the transition from being home with me to school. Toward the end of the year she didn't want to go and want to stay home. She would be okay at drop off but then cry in the middle of the day saying she missed me. Her teacher also said she was the teacher's shadow. The teacher would set her up doing something, leave her to do the project/puzzle etc. she would turn around and my daughter would be right next to her again.

Over the summer my husband and I saw a huge growth all around, including her becoming more outgoing. She returned to school and the first day or two she was more outgoing, talked to classmates etc. Now we are on day four and she has regressed back to what she was doing last year, following the teacher, not talking to classmates. Her teacher is concerned with her socialization skills. What can we do to help her/ help her teacher? I'm concerned that when she gets to Kindergarten with more students per teacher next year she is going to get lost.
Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Thank you
From: MomofV&L, Kingston


Hi MomofV&L,

I wonder what happened over the summer that made her more outgoing? Was she in a different program? Was she at home but playing with neighborhood kids? Also, I wonder: Is there a baby at home? Or someone sick at home, or some other reason to make her think that she somehow "belongs" at home?

I suggest you carefully examine what made the summer experience more successful for her, and what it is about the preschool that might be making her anxious? Some children simply are very anxious to change, even when it's change within a familiar setting; some are very sensitive to noise level, for instance; a setting that has a lot of echo-y noises, or lots of boisterous children, can make them anxious. The pace of the classroom -- moving from one activity to another, or having too many options -- can also throw some children off.

My guess is you have a child who is slow to warm up.

This is not a diagnosis, it's a temperament. You need to find ways to feed into her strengths, not into her weakness.

I would ask the teacher if there is one or two other children who she sometimes gravitates to or who seem interested in her? I would also want to know: Are there some activities in which she becomes engaged? Those are the areas which you want to emphasize, including making play dates with the one or two other children.

That she was more outgoing over the summer indicates that she does have the ability to be social so, truly, I would not be worried about this, given her young age. I would encourage the teachers to be receptive to her and not push her away, not to pathologize this but to find ways to play into her strengths by engaging her. ("Can you sit here, next to X, during reading time? I'll be right here...." "Can you help me pass out the napkins?" etc). I would also not talk about this with her or in front of her. But you could say to her, "I notice you are a person who really likes to check out a room/a playground before you decide what to play.That means you're someone who is really observant. That's a good thing. What kinds of things do you look for?"

Depending on what she says, you can get into a dialogue that helps her develop her own set of coping mechanisms. For instance, maybe she'll say, "I like to know where the teacher/adult is."

"Oh," you could say. "So you like to make sure the adult is paying attention. That makes you feel safe...." And see where that takes you.

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2 comments so far...
  1. Given that she was OK for a few days, I've got to wonder if there's something going on in the classroom that's bothering her, particularly with one of the other kids. I was shocked, when my younger child was that age, to hear how mean some kids that age can be. Definitely talk to the teachers...it may be subtle enough that they have to be specifically watching for it.

    Also, have conversations with your daughter about school. Ask probing questions - "Who did you sit with at snack?" "What did you play on the playground?" - and see if anything comes out.

    Good luck....

    Posted by akmom September 29, 09 06:49 AM
  1. Something else to consider is whether she feels like she is "missing out" while she is in preschool. My oldest is very social, but would still sound wistful when he asked what I did with his younger siblings while he was at school, and it would bother him sometimes if we went to a playground he wouldn't get to go to. The solution to this is downplaying what we did and getting him to tell us what the favorite parts of school were for him that day.

    We also have many friends who are 4 and 5 who are very sensitive to someone not wanting to play with them. They are totally heart broken if a classmate, friend, or sibling would rather play a different game - they feel so rejected. (They also tell each other "you're not my friend anymore" at the drop of a hat, which is very frustrating and hurtful at the time, though they also get over it quickly.) What helped was reminding him that he needs to tell the other child exactly what game he wants to play (or not play), the other child won't know. And if they don't want to play the same game as them right now, that's okay, find someone else who does want to play right now.

    Posted by 3in3yrs September 29, 09 06:14 PM
 
2 comments so far...
  1. Given that she was OK for a few days, I've got to wonder if there's something going on in the classroom that's bothering her, particularly with one of the other kids. I was shocked, when my younger child was that age, to hear how mean some kids that age can be. Definitely talk to the teachers...it may be subtle enough that they have to be specifically watching for it.

    Also, have conversations with your daughter about school. Ask probing questions - "Who did you sit with at snack?" "What did you play on the playground?" - and see if anything comes out.

    Good luck....

    Posted by akmom September 29, 09 06:49 AM
  1. Something else to consider is whether she feels like she is "missing out" while she is in preschool. My oldest is very social, but would still sound wistful when he asked what I did with his younger siblings while he was at school, and it would bother him sometimes if we went to a playground he wouldn't get to go to. The solution to this is downplaying what we did and getting him to tell us what the favorite parts of school were for him that day.

    We also have many friends who are 4 and 5 who are very sensitive to someone not wanting to play with them. They are totally heart broken if a classmate, friend, or sibling would rather play a different game - they feel so rejected. (They also tell each other "you're not my friend anymore" at the drop of a hat, which is very frustrating and hurtful at the time, though they also get over it quickly.) What helped was reminding him that he needs to tell the other child exactly what game he wants to play (or not play), the other child won't know. And if they don't want to play the same game as them right now, that's okay, find someone else who does want to play right now.

    Posted by 3in3yrs September 29, 09 06:14 PM
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About the author

Barbara F. Meltz is a freelance writer, parenting consultant, and author of "Put Yourself in Their Shoes: Understanding How Your Children See the World." She won several awards for her weekly "Child Caring" column in the Globe, including the 2008 American Psychological Association Print Excellence award. Barbara is available as a speaker for parent groups.

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