Wednesday, 20 October 2010

new school jitters

daughter #1 started school in august and the last few months have been spent negotiating the precarious way through new school nerves, sad school gate goodbyes, making new friends, not trying too hard, not trying too little. not her you understand; me. #1 doesn’t seem to be too worried about any of the above. not now anyway, half term is here and she seems to have worked out her fit in the class and got her head around the newness of it all; it has taken me a bit longer. the first month was hard all round; #1 has always had a bit of what is broadly branded “separation anxiety”. she calls it sadness: she told us she hated the sadness that she felt when she watched us walk away. she didn’t want the sadness, and asked if someone else could take her to school so that she didn’t have to feel it. she didn’t like the unbidden tears and the fact that she had to try to manage it quietly so that the other children swarming around her, loud and confident in their pre-school established relationships didn’t notice. the first few days were fine; all new and shiny and big girl and uniform and like her cousins. the start of week 2 was dreadful; clinging like a spiders web to me with all available limbs, sobbing and shouting out and tangled and dreadfully dreadfully sad whilst she was slowly peeled off. and as i steered my unwilling body away, holding onto confused #2, i felt like such a failure. how had i not prepared my child for this? at what point had my decision tree been so flawed that it left her so apparently insecure in her own strengths to swim large-fish like into the class. she had been to nursery since she was 1 for a couple of days a week, been to pre-school for the last year for 2 mornings a week, she had had sleepovers, play dates, friend and family visits galore. but she hadn’t been to this pre-school; she didn’t know the children and she wasn’t sure about the every day part of it. i did what everyone prescribed: i made my goodbye quick, i gave her a special routine, i was assertive and strong and kind and brief and all the other things that the internet/school/friends/family advised. i didn’t want to be getting it so wrong, so i tried so hard but still she wailed.

#1 is a lover of justice; in extremis. she is incredibly fair but expects scrupulous behaviour from all. she is also passionate about one-on-one relationships with friends and with adults. and suddenly in this new space there was very little evidence of any of the above and it threw her into such new territory that all her little supporting struts were down. sharing tales of injustice with the teacher was getting short shrift, understandably. she felt very alone and i wasn’t at all sure what the best way of managing it was. the school were very supportive and called me to tell me how quickly she had recovered, and given a specific job to do had blossomed back into confidence each day. but the following morning was to be the same for three weeks.

on work mornings i would arrive shattered, weepy, drained for the day. on non-work days i felt helpless and redundant, and a fraud as i took #2 to jo jingles and pretended to be a good parent whilst clearly failing so obviously. i tried not to take it personally, and to brush it off as one of those things that would pass and get better, but it was on reflection one of the hardest periods i’ve gone through with the children.

on coming home #1 became incredibly obsessive about debriefing her actions in a daily confessional of minor sins on which she wanted guidance and steering. she also became insistent that i know everything she did “i just touched the table mummy”, “i just thought about poo mummy” and could talk non-stop for two hours on minutiae without pausing for breath. the child seemed to be in full meltdown.

and so what happened. friends are what happened: for both of us. i turned to my cohort, my rocks lined up with their different angles and strengths and intelligences and was steered through this sea by their views and ideas. one mum told me in a very straight forward way how her daughter was going through this too at the same time; but that she had always been like this and always would be. it sounds so simple but made me stop comparing #1s behaviour to other children, but instead to her own history. and she has always struggled with goodbyes; even at her nursery and her friends houses. she simply doesn’t like them but comes through them quickly and moves forward in her day. another mum, a teacher, suggested that if #1 was entering a daily confessional mode and seeking rules then to match her rigor with my own. to give her my rules, to give her parameters of acceptable behaviour so that she didn’t feel so lost and without guidance. to not be scared by her need for definite advice and to not back away saying it was up to her, but instead to match her need with my support and to not worry about being a control freak. (permanent worry, growing massive roots throughout this period). and the third advised i try a star chart. again, not a coup in terms of original thought, but just the prod i needed to spend less time analysing and more time in positive action. and it worked a treat. she chose swimming as her activity, we printed the chart of choice from and wrote the treat across the top. 10 consecutive days of no crying and we were at that pool! and over that period #1 formed her own relationships with her own rocks and i hope she’s as lucky as i have been in finding her own buffers for the rocky seas that occasionally flood us all.


  1. Gosh K no wonder you didn't respond to my text about how she was getting on!
    I'm glad all's well now, and also reassured that it's not only my children who take a while to settle into pre-school / school and cause me to wonder where I went wrong when they are such happy, sensible children yet so insecure in so many situations! But probably we haven't gone wrong at all, it's just that they are all different :-) I'm just hoping now that I don't have to deal with the same thing again in Jan when my #2 starts school.
    Hope the work is going well. Hugs to all.

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