I have two boys 4 years and 11 months. My four year old has attended a corporate daycare center near my work in MA since he was 19 months old. The commute from NH to MA is long, and the center is very expensive. After our second son was born, we finally realized it is not worth working for 500$ a week in daycare cost. We just switched both boys to a smaller, independent center near our home in NH. My younger son is thriving in the non-corporate, less crowded environment. My four year old is not thriving. He misses his friends, claims no one likes him, and has already had a physical spat with another boy. He does like the teachers and the environment, but I don't think he is open to making new friends, and the boys his age want nothing to do with the new kid. What can I do to ease the pain? I feel horrible. How much time is normal for a 4yo to transition? I just want to see him smiling and having fun again and not feel as though I've done him a horrible injustice!
From: Carolyn, Plaistow, NH
I wish I could tell you a magic number for how long it takes a child to be comfortable in a new setting. What you can expect to see is some days that seem a little better until gradually those days outnumber the unhappy ones. Here are some suggestions for easing the transition:
1. Compare notes with the teachers daily until this settles in and make sure they know what he says at home about school. Sometimes what they see isn't the same as what you hear. I wouldn't be surprised if they're saying, "Oh, he had a great day! He played with X," on the same day he tells you he had no one to play with. If he's coming from a setting where he played with groups of kids, or where playmates were interchangable, having only one playmate is simply different for him -- not necessarily bad -- but he may be looking longingly at the groups of playmates. Skilled teachers should be able to help him join into group play. Do they know he had a "spat" with another child? Are they on top of their interactions?
2. Stay positive. If you start to waver -- "Oh, I wish we hadn't left your old school!" -- or complain about something that's different here, he'll pick right up on that and run with it. Your job is to let him know that you choose a school you think is wonderful (don't compare the two places). It's OK to acknowledge that he misses aspects of his former school -- "You really miss Miss Stephanie, don't you?" Once you validate that feeling, he'll be more able to consider attributes of the current teachers: "I wonder if Mrs. G knows that song you like about clean up?"
3. He's noticing differences. Differences aren't by definition bad. It's OK to point out and acknowledges differences, and then let it go. For instance, if he says, "I don't like X," mirror that back to him: "This school does X in a different way, doesn't it?" Period.
4. Ask the teacher for one or two children who seem to be potential friends and make playdates, one-on-one.
5. Can you volunteer in the classroom? That shows him your level of investment. It also gives you a chance to see what's really happening and to give you shared points of reference. I'm guessing it's not as bad as he's telling you.
It takes a lot of energy for a young child to hold it together in a new setting; when he comes home to his safe haven, he needs to collapse. You have to find a way to tolerate that. This is a process that will take time. Stop beating up on yourself. Kids are far more resilient than we give them credit for.