Updated: Jan 6
Today is the official first day of 2021 - adults going back to work and kids going back to school.
My kids are still in pre-school. No school break but we have been telling them about the end of 2020, the start of 2021 and about them transitioning to the "higher level" class. We also had a wonderful start to the year with plenty of family fun, so it was understandable that they experienced some kind of first-day-of-school jitters even after just a long weekend break.
A, my younger daughter, was all ready for school. I was busy helping the elder one. By the time I looked back at A, she was misty eyed. She looked like she had been trying to hold herself back but couldn't. That was unexpected given she had been quite cheery to that very moment. I honestly thought it was something else, not related to going to school. I asked and she mumbled in broken voice "I.. want.. Mummy.." and the tears started falling. No screaming, no struggling, just a very gentle resistance. She spoke in the softest voice possible " I ..dont want ..to ..go to.. school..", tears rolling on her cheeks.
I hugged her and tried to assure her of the nice teacher she had, the friends she would play with and the activities she would enjoy. Nothing worked. Her little mind was too overwhelmed with some feeling and resistance which perhaps she herself didn't understand much. She just knew she wanted to be with Mummy.
I was lucky my husband was still around. So she was ok with waiting at home with Daddy while I sent her elder sister to school first and we could decide what to do next.
The moment I came back, she was misty eyed again.. "I dont want to go to school. I want to play.." still with the soft broken voice.
"What do you want to play?"
I walked her to her play table. She sat down and switched on her fishing play set.
She let out a happy smile.
"How long do you want to play? A little or a lot?"
"Ok. Do you still want to go to school? You can share with Teacher and friends about your fishing game."
I was just trying my luck. I almost came to term with the fact that she would be home today. But she seemed to be considering my proposal.
"Would you like to bring a fish with you to school?" - I continued
She nodded her head and promptly chose a blue fish, and squeezed it tightly in her little hand. To my surprise, she was ready to go to school! (despite not being too happy about it.)
I helped her wear a mask and we headed out. I tried to keep her entertained by singing, pointing at the flowers, and so on. But half way through, she got misty eyed again. I sat down and after a few minutes of trying to grasp what was bothering her, I understood that she wanted to wear another mask. I was a bit stressed trying to reason with her why I gave her the current mask instead. I was intentionally taking my time to go through this experience with her, gave her hugs and assuring touch. We managed to continue the journey. Within that short walk, we stopped a few times as my little girl came up with different "emotional excuses" to "extend" the walk (in my words. I dont think she knew what she did nor understood why)
No expectations of the outcome, just respecting what she said and her feelings...
I could imagine myself getting fed up with her "excuses", losing my patience, triggering her tantrum and ending up dragging her home or just handing her to the teachers. Luckily, I was emotionally stable today. I was amazed I managed to keep my calm and we managed to reach the school. At every step, I was just doing what I could and was always ready to bring her home if we couldn't make it. Looking back, I think that was key - No expectations of the outcome, just respecting what she said and her feelings.
We reached the last milestone of her getting checked in. The moment she saw the teacher, she teared again. Her soft cry really can melt hearts, just not the teacher checking her in this morning..
The teacher tried to grab A from me. I resisted. She was taken aback, perhaps confused.
"Why?" - she asked
"Because she is crying. I want to hold her."
While checking this little miserable teary girl, the teacher casually assumed "Holiday too long is it? Must be right" then quickly turned to me and said "Next time please send A earlier, the classes start at.." and she went on repeating a few more times..
Not a word to show empathy for this little girl going through her big feelings.
Having learned from my past mistakes, I insisted to sit with A outside till she was ready to go in. So I sat with her, talked to her, checked how she was feeling, asked her about the little fish in her hand, showed her a glimpse of her class through the window. After about 5 mins, she was finally ready. I didnt expect it would be that fast! And I was so glad I spent that extra 5 minutes with her.
She was not 100% ok but she was ready.
I am sharing this because I think being the emotional pillar to support your child can be so rewarding. I don't blame the teacher for not caring enough about my child's feelings. She has tons of things to do and this crying-i-don't-want-to-go-to-school kid is nothing new to her. But because of this, it is even more important for us parents to stand up for our children, support them wherever we can to balance out the emotion ignorance they possibly experience at school.
I was with my children the first time they attended school and I have witnessed how common it is for teachers to brush it off, ask a child to just wipe their tears, that "it is ok", that if they continue to cry, they are naughty, that even if they cry, they gotta move on with the activities at hand. There are great teachers out there but they are simply not empowered by the school system to handle children's emotions with respect and sufficient attention. Sadly, school is more about conforming no matter how you feel, rather than nurturing emotional intelligence.
So, to all the parents out there, if your child is experiencing "first-day-of-school jitters", support them through it. Don't leave it to our system to teach them to suppress. These seemingly small moments in their childhood are the foundation to their emotional strength and resilience.
I wish you the courage, determination and resources to prioritize your child's feelings and as much as possible, be that pillar of support to teach children to respect their own feelings, manage it and simply be okay with it. To be that pillar, we ourselves gotta be comfortable with our own feelings.
Back to A, I couldn't be happier seeing her back from school singing and dancing. She said she would go to school tomorrow. I still have no idea what's in store for us the 2nd day of school, but I hope to maintain my no-expectation approach and a clear mind to do what's best for my child.
If you are going through an emotionally challenging time, need support to manage recurring anxious jittery feelings or simply want to learn more about emotional wellness, don't hesitate to reach out. I am offering Pay As You Wish emotional coaching sessions as part of my 2021 goal to sharpen my skills and spread awareness about emotional wellness (and power!). Email me at email@example.com