For the past few weeks, JJ has been having trouble with the kindergarten drop-off. As it was, we’d ride our bikes to school, walk Elia to her classroom, walk JJ to his classroom, at which point he would get clingy. I thought this would change after a few days, as he is quite social and confident. But each day when it was time for me to leave, he got sad and whiny. He’d hug me tightly and not let go. He would beg me to stay and read a story to him. When we drove instead of biked, he wouldn’t get out of the car. Each day, he didn’t want to be away from me.
School itself wasn’t the problem, as everyday he’d come home smiling and animatedly telling me about all he did, waving and yelling “Bye!” to each of his classmates. It was the actual drop-off that was the hardest part, and I wanted to help ease this transition for him. We needed to come up with a different solution, a routine that worked for both of us and ensure JJ a pleasant drop-off experience.
Until we could do that, I was wiling do do what I needed to to ease his transition from home to school each morning. That meant continuing to walk him to his class, reading him a book on the rug, and sitting in the back for 10 minutes while his class gathered for circle time. When they were fully immersed in their morning meeting, I would wave to JJ and head out the door.
This routine wasn’t a huge inconvenience for me, but it wasn’t ideal. It just wasn’t quite working for either of us. The bottom line was JJ was still feeling insecure about going to school. Something needed to change.
Last week I mentioned to him that I noticed how hard drop-offs were for him in the morning, and that he had a hard time leaving me for his class. He said, “That’s because I just like to be with you.” I repeated, “You like to be with me. OK. And are there things you don’t like about class?”
So we started listing all of the “problems” that he had with class, school, and the whole morning routine–everything that made mornings hard in his mind:
The goal with this brainstorming session was not to worry about the validity of any of these items; we only wanted to list everything that JJ found difficult about the morning, or anything he does not look forward to about the day. There were no wrong answers.
Just getting everything out there seemed to help a lot. He was able to vent and not have any of this thoughts “fixed” or rationalized away. (“Oh, well ALL kindergarteners do that…You know, it’s not that long before I’ll see you again…Sometimes you have to do crafts…Elia’s in a different grade, so you can’t be in her class…” etc.)
The next day we moved on to “possibilities.” Not all of the problems we listed were something that could be changed, but some of them were. We took another look at the problems list and brainstormed some ideas for things that could be different–came up with some new possibilities.
Again, this was a brainstorming session (shared over bowls of macaroni and cheese, a game of Uno, and some Trackball outside), so nothing was rejected, everything was written down.
Once we had the possibilities list, we selected a few things that would be the most feasible and crossed out a few that were definitely not.
The next morning, we tried a few we selected. I woke JJ up a half-hour earlier for some special mom time before school. We snuggled in his bed and I read him 2 chapters of his book. We had breakfast as a family (instead of our usual: kids eat while I run around and take care of other tasks). Then we rode to school and I said goodbye easily at the bike racks, at which point Elia walked him to his classroom. When I picked him up 2 1/2 hours later, he declared he’d had a great day.
So far, it’s been successful. No clinging or whininess when it comes time to say good bye, although I am not opposed to revisiting these lists if any other issues arise. Here’s why the changes are working:
- I listened to him–there was no scoffing or dismissing things he saw as a problem. All thoughts were acceptable.
- He was involved–though we didn’t use all of his ideas for new possibilities (PE every day and no crafts any day), they were all counted. He contributed to the process of solving his own problem.
- We added in more time –finding an extra half-hour meant more time to wake up and get dressed, time for interaction, time to eat together, time to not rush through the morning, time to ride, and time to say goodbye.
- We focused on connection–While it would have been easy to yell and lay down demands about mornings, getting ready, and expectations about going to school, it was more effective to slow down, and bring everyone together in the mornings. Connection before correction. In this situation, when we added connection, the correction took care of itself.
- We aimed for long-term–we didn’t focus on making any immediate changes. We didn’t aim for a quick fix at drop-off time, but realized that long-term changes take time. Every day JJ goes to school is a new day for him to get comfortable. Each day is one to meet new friends, play games, learn cool things…enjoy what there is to enjoy about school. It takes time to get comfortable, so we just gave it some time.