In most parts of the country, the leaves are turning colors and there is a crisp breeze in the air – this is usually a sign of the start of school in the Fall. In Texas, we continue to endure hot temperatures (90-100 degrees) and stagnant air, eagerly anticipating that first cold front blowing through.
This is also the time when parents are gearing up for a huge transition. We are back to early mornings, packing lunches, and rushing out the door to make it before the second bell. Several years ago now, we had a new kindergartener in our house. Before school started people would ask her, “Are you excited for kindergarten?” She would make a face and say, “No.” And she meant it. She told me a couple of days before school began that she decided she was not going to go. I asked what she would do instead. She said, “I’ll just stay in my room.” Sure enough, on the first day, she shed lots of tears at drop off, despite our reassurance that everything would be okay and we would be back at pick up. The teacher informed us that she spent her lunchtime crying because the cafeteria was too loud, and when they allowed her to sit outside of the cafeteria, she cried because I was not there. This was heartbreaking. But, we thought, let’s give it a couple more days and see how it goes.
The days improved slightly, she met some new friends, and began to share what she learned at school. She said she liked P.E. class. But she continued to cry at lunchtime. While the administration was incredibly helpful and supportive (the principal and librarian both sat with her at lunch), I wondered what to do about this situation. Part of me even wondered if perhaps my youngest just was not ready emotionally for kindergarten. Thoughts began swirling in my head of other possible options–other schools, back to preschool, homeschool? It was a challenge for me to take a step back and decide to wait it out, and this is hard for any parent who sees their child sad and out of sorts.
While every child has quirks, behaviors, and preferences that the teacher might benefit from knowing, sometimes it is good for the teacher to develop an impression of your child on her own. See the New York Times article, “When to Brief the Teacher…” recently published on this topic:
Although I had initially thought it was unnecessary to have a 504 meeting (Special Education Law for Other Health-Impaired) for my youngest sensory kiddo, I realized that this was one thing I could do to get her some extra help and accommodations. I also made a plan for my babysitter (who has known her from birth) to meet her at school for lunch every day, and gradually introduce her to the cafeteria scene (starting with 5 minutes and increasing from there). We bought skin-colored earplugs so that she could wear them inconspicuously, and she has responded favorably to having her babysitter work on this plan with her. Of course the plan involves stickers and a potential prize after a couple weeks of eating in the cafeteria. We have also boosted our sensory activities at home, such as brushing, heavy work, and gross motor activity.
Parents have gut instincts about their children and what will work for them. Make sure to give yourself time to adjust to the new situation, too, and to trust that everything will turn out okay (exactly what we tell our kids!). While transitions can be tough, they also teach us that life involves big changes, unexpected situations, and adversity. Stepping back and not giving up too easily will teach your kid to stick through it, and give her the space to work things out. And think about the outcome: the rewards might be increased independence, positive self-esteem, and new friends and experiences for you and your child. Instead of dropping out, think about what you can do as a parent, what the school will support you in doing, and what your legal options (504/ARD) might be. And if you have tried everything else, and exhausted all efforts, exploring other options is not the end of the world.