This fall, my son started preschool for the very first time. We chose the school meticulously. I interviewed the staff for hours (literally, hours!), and my little one ran and played and told us how much he loved his new school. Orientation went great, and Finn made fast friends with his classmates.
Then came the first day of school.
The morning went great right up until the moment it was time to get in the car. Finn burst into tears and exclaimed “I don’t want you to leave me all by myself! I want to stay with you!”
My heart BROKE.
I reassured him that if this school wasn’t a good fit, we didn’t have to stay there, but we were going to give it a fair shake first. He whimpered the whole way to school, but went into his classroom without much trouble. His teacher reported that he had a great day.
The next day, and the next day, and the day after that, the cycle repeated. Tears, heartbreaking conversations (“Don’t you like me, mama??”), incredibly difficult drop-offs, followed by seemingly pleasant days at school. I was at once sad, baffled, and not completely sold on this whole “school” thing.
I mean, my child is four years old. This isn’t Harvard. We decided to put Finn in preschool because it would be fun. Are we having fun yet??
By the end of the first week, I was done. I wanted to throw in the towel. Why were we throwing money at a school that our kid apparently hates? I cried on my husband’s shoulder and he was kind and reassuring and reminded me that if this wasn’t going to work out, we could leave. No harm, no foul. I took a deep breath, and decided to give it a few more days.
During the second week, I pulled out some good old fashioned bribery. (Don’t judge me.) I told Finn that if he was really brave and went to school without a fuss, we would buy some new Legos on the way home. By some glorious miracle, it worked. He bopped out of the car in carline and waved goodbye to me with a smile. He had a great day.
Within a day or two of our first successful, tear-free drop-off, he was actually excited to go to school. He would tell me, “Let’s go, mom! I can’t wait to go see my friends!” Now, he loves his teachers. He loves his friends. He gushes about his “great day at school” every single afternoon when I pick him up. And I’m so glad that I didn’t give up and throw in the towel after the first few days.
Here’s what I learned: big transitions take a minute. Give it a minute. I, a thirtysomething grown woman, need time (sometimes a lot of it) to adjust to big life changes. How much more does a four-year-old need time to adjust to something new?? (The answer: LOTS)
When transitions are tough (and they usually are), take a beat. Take a deep breath. Talk to your child. Talk to your partner. Keep the lines of communication open. Give your child (and yourself) space to feel your big feelings.
And if, after enough time has passed, the transition still isn’t working out, give yourself permission to make a change. Very few things in life are a permanent commitment, so don’t let yourself feel stuck in a situation that is less than ideal.
For us, we just needed to give preschool some time. Thus far, preschool has been an outstandingly positive experience for our family, and I’m so thankful that I worked through our challenging transition into such a great place.