4-yr old's bumpy adjustment to preschool

Posted by Barbara F. Meltz  October 31, 2011 04:58 PM

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My daughter started preschool last year as a 3yr old. She absolutely loved it! She went 3 days a week and would ask daily if she was going today everyday. We switched schools for 4yr old preschool thinking she would be just as good. She has fought me to go since the first week. She works herself up so much that she is now making herself throw up. I have taken her to the Dr.'s and she did have a sinus infection, but after taking all her medication and follow up,every things ok she still continues. After 5 weeks in the new school the principal of the school recommended that we try the school she attended the year prior.

After staying with her for the first hour of school, she had a good day. But the next day she started all over again with not wanting to go. She makes herself so upset she ends up vomiting.
I would GREATLY appreciate any suggestions you may have to help me help my child. I hate that this has to be so dramatic daily.

From: Cathy, Grand Rapids, ND

Dear Cathy,

This is an unusual situation, to have been sent back to a previous school; makes me wonder: was the teacher at the new school unwilling, unskilled or not inclined to be helpful? So my first suggestion is to make the effort and time to connect with the current teachers so that you are all partners in figuring this out. In fact, I would also suggest that the teacher from last year be included, so she can observe your daughter. It's possible a social, behavioral or developmental issue has surfaced since last year.

That thought prompted me to turn to Carol Mersky, a long-time early childhood educator and director of the preschool at Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA.

Absolutely start with a conference, she said, and in particular, ask the teachers to suggest children for playdates. Also arrange to volunteer in the classroom.

"That gives you the chance to eyeball everything that's going on," Mersky said, "and it gives you a chance to bond afterwards with your daughter afterwards: 'My favorite part of the morning was the dress up corner. What did you like best?" It may also help you to help her make a bridge between home and school: "You know the book the teacher read, about a bunny? Well, you have a bunny. Why don't you take it to school....."

Once your daughter knows you're going to stay for a little while, or that you will drop her and come back, she may be able to better manage the separation. "This behavior is more typical of a 2-year-old than a 4," Mersky said, another reason why seeing her behavior in context in the classroom will be helpful.

Other tips:

Have a predictable routine for the morning, from when she wakes up, through leaving the house. Have a ritual for dropoff. Never leave without saying goodbye.

Is there something that's happened in the past few months that might be the source of emotional insecurity for her? Did you choose a new school because you had moved? Has there been a death or illness? Financial stress? Change of jobs? Divorce or separation? Any stress of this kind can make a child regress.

This blog is not written or edited by Boston.com or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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6 comments so far...
  1. I put my 4 year old in a new school this year too but have had a really good experience. He seems to love it whereas last year not so much. One of the big differences with this school is that the parents bring their kids into the classroom and say goodbye there. I honestly think this had made the transition for him so much better. The informal setting is not as "scary". Just a thought, good luck!

    Posted by Kristin November 1, 11 01:02 PM
  1. Why not just bring her back to the other school? She loved that one, she hates this one. Why force it if it doesn't work for her? What is it that makes you want to stay with the current school?

    Posted by jjlen November 1, 11 04:01 PM
  1. Can somebody explain how you ask one teacher from one preschool to attend another preschool (at another site) where he/she is not employed, to critique the second school's teaching style?

    Do you pay the first teacher's salary for the day that has to be taken off work? Will the new school ever cooperate with you after a stunt like that?

    Posted by Irene November 1, 11 07:09 PM
  1. I agree with jjlen....She is only 4 years old. She loved it at her old school and you had no issues with the school. I wonder why you took her out to begin with. This is easy. Bring her back to the old school :)

    Posted by jd November 2, 11 07:11 AM
  1. The LW makes it seem like she DID move her daughter back to the old school. But she is very unclear. Commenters #2, #3, and #4 missed it. Barbara caught it, Irene, that's why she suggests including last year's teacher.

    I hope the return to the old school eventually does the trick and it is just a matter of time for her to unlearn the bad behavior pattern that she developed at the "new" school. Oh, and do *not* stay with her for an hour at drop off time. Five minutes is plenty. You can do it.

    Posted by geocool November 2, 11 10:35 AM
  1. My son didn't want to go to preschool in his second year (4 years old)... it turns out a child was being aggressive with him on the playground and so he was scared. No-one had any idea because he didn't tell us, the kid, or his teachers. It was one of his friends -- the teachers thought they were just playing and that both were OK with it (they couldn't know because he didn't say!). It was after weeks of not wanting to go that he said to me in an unrelated situation "I don't like it when Tommy hits me" Lightbulb moment! I wonder if she came up against a situation where she felt powerless and is scared it will happen again.

    Posted by suburban mama November 2, 11 11:39 PM
 
6 comments so far...
  1. I put my 4 year old in a new school this year too but have had a really good experience. He seems to love it whereas last year not so much. One of the big differences with this school is that the parents bring their kids into the classroom and say goodbye there. I honestly think this had made the transition for him so much better. The informal setting is not as "scary". Just a thought, good luck!

    Posted by Kristin November 1, 11 01:02 PM
  1. Why not just bring her back to the other school? She loved that one, she hates this one. Why force it if it doesn't work for her? What is it that makes you want to stay with the current school?

    Posted by jjlen November 1, 11 04:01 PM
  1. Can somebody explain how you ask one teacher from one preschool to attend another preschool (at another site) where he/she is not employed, to critique the second school's teaching style?

    Do you pay the first teacher's salary for the day that has to be taken off work? Will the new school ever cooperate with you after a stunt like that?

    Posted by Irene November 1, 11 07:09 PM
  1. I agree with jjlen....She is only 4 years old. She loved it at her old school and you had no issues with the school. I wonder why you took her out to begin with. This is easy. Bring her back to the old school :)

    Posted by jd November 2, 11 07:11 AM
  1. The LW makes it seem like she DID move her daughter back to the old school. But she is very unclear. Commenters #2, #3, and #4 missed it. Barbara caught it, Irene, that's why she suggests including last year's teacher.

    I hope the return to the old school eventually does the trick and it is just a matter of time for her to unlearn the bad behavior pattern that she developed at the "new" school. Oh, and do *not* stay with her for an hour at drop off time. Five minutes is plenty. You can do it.

    Posted by geocool November 2, 11 10:35 AM
  1. My son didn't want to go to preschool in his second year (4 years old)... it turns out a child was being aggressive with him on the playground and so he was scared. No-one had any idea because he didn't tell us, the kid, or his teachers. It was one of his friends -- the teachers thought they were just playing and that both were OK with it (they couldn't know because he didn't say!). It was after weeks of not wanting to go that he said to me in an unrelated situation "I don't like it when Tommy hits me" Lightbulb moment! I wonder if she came up against a situation where she felt powerless and is scared it will happen again.

    Posted by suburban mama November 2, 11 11:39 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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