I was a complete mess when my daughter first attended school. It was not a pretty sight; think hot tears streaming down the face (mine and hers), snot and drool smeared all over and uncontrollable residual sobs that wouldn’t cease for what feels like forever.
Preparing for the day…
In the months preceding D-Day, I hemmed and hawed over the decision to put my daughter in preschool. We don’t have opportunities for very many playdates and I thought it would be good for her to interact with other children more frequently. I also yearned for a few hours of respite to freely run errands and work on my projects, and so it seemed like a win-win situation if I should put her in the care of loving teachers in school, especially when help was scarce at home.
I was well aware of the benefits of early childhood education, but I simply couldn’t bear the thought of saying goodbye to her when the day comes to drop her off at school. I have been her main caregiver since the day she was born, and I was sure that the girl would burst into tears if I should hand her over to strangers. After much contemplation, my husband and I felt that the only way to find out if she was suitable for preschool at a tender age of 19 months, was to put her in for a month or so and see how things progress (note: we were on the thrice-weekly, three-hour program).
The first day
On the first day of school, we asked our daughter to invite her favourite soft toy, Pooh, to school and we accompanied her for the first hour, left her with the teachers (and Pooh!) for another before picking her up. It seemed like I might have worried a little too much, because unlike jittery mum here who bit her nails and practically threw up her breakfast in that hour away from her, she seemed okay with it, and so we decided to try dropping her off on the second day instead of sitting in.
That didn’t go too well. She cried, naturally, on seeing us leave. My heart was broken, and I tried my best to hold back my tears as the teacher she took to the most on the first day, guided a very distraught her into the classroom. I burst into tears once I was out of sight and felt like the most horrible mother in the world for abandoning her child who, by the way, cried like the world has ended (or something to that effect).
Two hours later, we picked our surprisingly cheerful girl up, and whilst she did cry occasionally for me while we were gone, the teachers told us that it didn’t take too much to calm her down. I was utterly relieved to hear that but that didn’t take the dread away from subsequent drop-offs.
The secret behind dropping your child off
Friends who have gone through this ‘rite of passage’ shared that it was important for us to keep talking to our daughter about school, and maintaining a positive attitude when we say goodbye. The longer a caregiver holds onto a crying child at drop-off, the worse it gets and I have come to realise that my dear friends have told me nothing but the truth. We kept our goodbyes very succinct and cheerful, and for the next 1.5 months, whilst my daughter showed some resistance in putting on her uniform, whined during the commute to school (I swear
I was just short of juggling balls whilst walking on an actual tightrope to keep her calm whilst driving…) and of course, cried at drop-off, she did so only at the point of separation, and was happily running in to join her friends after I was out of sight. Today, she looks forward to going to school, even on days when she is not slated to attend, and often talks about her friends and teachers when she reads her books or after periods of absence due to illness or holidays.
Your little ones deserve more credit
Yes. It was a very emotional time, as most parents would attest, but I have come to know this…that teachers are well-trained and experienced enough to help children settle down, and whilst it is very distressing to watch your child reach out for you, with tears streaming down his or her face, kicking and screaming even, we have to trust that the teachers will do everything they can to help. I have also learnt to give my child a little more credit.
My daughter wasn’t the easiest baby to care for and I admit I did think that she might take much too long to get used to being away from me, but the truth is – children are much more adaptable than we think they are.
I’m glad that we went ahead with our decision to give preschool a try, even if there was a chance of a complete disaster, because looking at my daughter thriving and enjoying school (and yes, Pooh went to school with up until recently), the first-day-of-school is probably one of the best things we have ever gone through as a family.
By Rachel Tan
This article was first published in The New Age Parents Dec 14 / Jan 2015 e-magazine
Stay tuned for the rest of our ‘First Time Mum’ series!