I was reluctant to start Emerson in daycare/preschool as she had been at home with a nanny since she was 4-months old. But after Bodhi came along it was clear our energetic girl could benefit from more play and organization. When we decided to give it a try we were dab in the middle of the school year calendar so we had missed the opportunity to apply for most preschools in our area. We were lucky to find one relatively close to our house, that still had an opening two days a week. We jumped on it!
The initial evaluation and walk through went well, but naturally Emerson was a bit shy on her two trial days. I walked her in and sat for 5-10 minutes with her glued to me, she wouldn't let me leave her side. After she settled in a bit I told her I had to go to the store and I'd be back. I heard her crying as I left and it pulled at all my mom heart strings. I returned 15-minutes later and she had fixed herself to one teacher but at least wasn't crying. It took in total about two weeks for her to walk confidently into school at drop-off. The first few days I dropped her off and the teachers had to pry her crying out of my arms. And then Nate began to drop her off and each time there were less tears, fear and pouts until she walked in and started playing right away. The combination of Dad dropping her off and lots of time spent reading Lama Lama Misses Momma (highly recommend for any first timer going to daycare or preschool) seemed to settle Emerson and the dreaded drop-off became a thing of the past.
So imagine my surprise when two weeks ago after almost 4-months of happy drop-offs Emerson started crying at home, not wanting to go to school. At first I chopped it up to waking up on the wrong side of the bed, we all experience that so why can't toddler right!? But after a week of her crying that she wanted to stay at home with mommy I started to probe and wonder what was contributing to the sudden fear. I always want to listen to my kids so I contemplated having her stay home because her tears were of genuine sadness, not a fake tantrum. Her eyes would well up in tears and she get that lower lip pout that usually only comes with fear or hurt. But rather than pull her out, I wanted to try and get to the route of the problem with her, and work on addressing the fear together, hopefully teaching her some tools to deal with these emotions in the future.
So what is the issue? I considered the school itself. But every time we pick up Emerson she is smiling from ear to ear, waives and hugs all the teachers and friends goodbye and chews my ear out on the way home talking about all the painting and coloring she did. So, I knew she enjoyed herself and felt safe once she was there. It was getting there and out of the house that was the issue.
I tried getting down to Emerson's level, comforting her and talking it through. However, she would just keep saying that she doesn't want to go, that she wanted to stay home with Mama. I went to an internal audit, what had changed in the past two weeks that would trigger her desire to stay at home, or fear leaving home. For one, Nate had time off work over the 4th of July and taken a bit more time off so he was spending more weekdays at home with Emerson and the family. To combat that, Nate was gone for work for a week, and had just returned home when this issue started to arise and I think it may have been contributing to her desire to just be home with her family.
In combination with her desire to be with family and me at home, I started to think about what Emerson was reading or consuming at home. We had been reading a lot of Bambi before bed and we let her watch Lion King, which all have separation and sadness around parents. Since she is an empath it got me thinking that she was placing those emotions she was experiencing into wanting to stay home and not leave her parents.
With all that in mind, I kept along my strategy with talking her through it but tried to redirect the conversation. We went back to reading Lama Lama Misses Momma every morning before school so I could remind her mommy would always come back and pick her up. I also started to talking to her about my day, how I was going to work and what I'd be doing so she hopefully felt some comfort in knowing Mommy wasn't going to just be playing out home and she was missing out. I also resorted to good ol' fashion bribery (which they probably tell you not to do in any parenting book). I told her that Mommy would stop and get a coffee on the way to work and I'd pick her up a cookie or muffin and keep it in the car for her. She liked the idea of having a surprise when I picked her up, gave her something to look forward to.
We are two weeks in and she's been responding really well. She still get a bit teary eyed sometimes in the morning so we take it slow and don't rush her out the door, but she is now walking confidently into daycare, tear free!
Now, I'm sure there will be another set of hurtles when she starts her new preschool in a few weeks, we will save those challenges for another blog post!